Tales Behind the Tombstones

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Marriage, Miscarriage and Moore

Submitted: January 14, 2019

Reads: 80

Comments: 6

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 14, 2019

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6.Marriage, Miscarriage and Moore

 

 

 

In the dead of night, silence

He commits an act of violence.

White knuckles on an axe, creeping,

While eight are downstairs sleeping.

Blunt trauma on all but one

Morbid artwork of brains and blood.

A terrified girl crawling, screaming,

Two families forever grieving.

The case was never closed,

Never caught the man behind the prose.

In the dead of night, still silence,

After succumbing to the violence.

 

 

 

 

“Sara Batts, do you take Josiah Moore to be your husband; love, honour and cherish him now and forever?”

“I do.”

Josiah had surprised Sara as he got down on one knee at a combined family dinner; their parents had organized a special night to congratulate them on their graduation. They were high school sweethearts, together for almost six years when they got engaged. The wedding plans had been in the making for almost a year. Everything had to be perfect right down to the finest details. She chose a lilac and pearl theme. The flowers - made for the bridal party as well as the tables in the reception hall, were an assortment of white and purple; roses, violets, orchards and baby's breath all tied together with mauve, satin ribbon. Small, lilac and pearl hearts were scattered on the table tops and a place setting for each seat was homemade, pearl cardboard with purple the names of the guests in purple calligraphy. She chose simple, but elegant cuisines from local caterers sourcing local ingredients with a variety of poultry, beef and salmon. Her designer dress was low cut with lace-up corset style bodice, tied at the back to show off her small waist. The skirt comprised of layers and layers of white chiffon with dark purple floral embellishments at the hem. Her dark, wavy hair was pulled into a loose braid adorned with tiny white flowers; her curled bangs framed the make-up on her heart-shaped face. Her veil was fastened to the small tiara she had borrowed from her friend's aunty. 

They exchanged the vows and rings under magnolia trees in full bloom.

***

Sara's own cries woke her. She clutched her abdomen; the pain was excruciating. A pool of blood between her thighs soaked the cotton sheets. Josiah woke to the sound of his grieving wife. He helped her into their sedan and drove to the local hospital. It was not the first miscarriage they had suffered. They had been trying to conceive for over two years, ever since they tied the knot.

"No... no... no...," Sara cried. "It's happening again."

Josiah held Sara’s hand as she wept. The tears ran down her cheeks and landed on her cotton hospital gown. 

“Why does this keep happening to us?” She sobbed.

Josiah shook his head gently and looked down at his wife as he held her shaking body in his arms. “I don’t know, honey.”

Their regular doctor crossed the pale green linoleum floor to greet them. He always had such a pleasant demeanour as was part of his professional responsibility. He was present for the birth of Sara many years ago. 

“Sara, Josiah. My deepest condolences.” He took his glasses off and wiped the faint smudges off on his white coat. His gentle eyes reflected sadness, but he kept his tone neutral. 

“Are there more tests we can do?” Josiah asked Dr Sawyer.

“Come and see me in my office tomorrow. Sara needs rest. You look like you could do with some as well.” He patted Josiah on the back and gingerly touched Sara’s hand with a sympathetic expression on his face. He picked up the medical records and left the examination room so that Sara could get dressed into more comfortable clothes before being discharged. 

The drive home was woefully silent.

They climbed into bed somberly. Josiah snuggled in behind Sara and held her gently. He stroked her hair as she whimpered until she fell asleep.

***

A year went by…

After several miscarriages and a handful of unsuccessful IVF attempts the decision to move had come relatively easy to the couple. 

Sara and Josiah had saved enough money for the down payment on a house. It had been up for sale for quite some time and was below market price. Josiah snatched it up straight away. It was almost a two-thousand-mile trip to Villisca, Iowa. 

They had put their names down for adoption before deciding to move, hoping one day they might have their family. Normally, it was a lengthy process, but within a few months of filing their application, they received a phone call. A young girl, about six years old needed her forever home. The call came from an adoption Centre in Stanton, Iowa, so Josiah and Sara found a home within a neighbouring town and moved there for a fresh start. The girl apparently had a different name at birth; the only information given to the couple was that they had legally changed her name to Mary Katherine after tragic events surrounding her parents. The adoption agency did not elaborate on the details.

Josiah pulled up parallel to the curb and killed the engine. He exited the vehicle, bounded to his wife’s side door with an eager gait and offered her a hand. He led her up the rickety wooden walkway leading to the house. 

“Come, honey.” He beamed.

The real estate agent greeted them on the front landing with the keys to the property. She was barely five foot six, with long wavy red hair pulled up into a loose, messy bun and light green eyes under perfectly shaped brows. She turned the keys over to Josiah and congratulated them on their purchase.

“I wish I could offer you a cup of tea or something.” Sara said. “But we are still waiting on the truck to arrive.”

“That’s all right.” The real estate agent responded. “I have a few more appointments today, anyway.” Josiah put the key in the lock and turned it; the door creaked open slowly. 

“Oh, and one more thing,” The estate agent continued, “As you know there is no electricity installed in the house. No one has occupied the dwelling since the early nineteen hundreds. We had an off-site caretaker for the property. I have contacted a few local electricians for quotes, and we are happy to cover the cost as per our agreement over the phone.”

“That’s fine. Sara and I enjoy relaxing by candlelight.” He said, smiling at his wife. She returned a tired but genuine smile.

The realtor glanced into the house briefly, fiddling with her clipboard. She checked her watch. “Oh, my.” She said. “Time has gotten away from me I am afraid. Welcome to Villisca. It is a quiet rural town, but I am sure you will grow to love it. I will leave you to get settled in.”

She politely dismissed herself and half walked, half ran to her car. As she opened the driver’s side door, she cast an apprehensive look towards the couple before sliding behind the steering wheel and pulling away from the curb.

“Did you see that?” Sara asked, bewildered.

“See what, honey?”

“Oh, nothing,” Sara muttered, as she watched the car speed up around the corner. “It was probably nothing.”

***

The home was white weatherboard with small a small front deck. The house sat on about an acre of land, most of which was unkempt and in desperate need of a green thumb. Three bedrooms and one bathroom occupied the second floor; the ground level had a separate dining and kitchen, a spare bedroom and a large open parlour with a stone fireplace. 

said as she brushed her hand over the cream sheet that covered the lounge. 

“Maybe we can clean it up and sell it. In the meantime, we could use it until the truck turns up with our stuff.”

Sara hummed in response and continued to explore the house. Josiah pulled the curtains across, opened windows and removed the cream sheets from the various pieces of furniture placed around the house.

Dust rose as she removed each cotton sheet; Sara sneezed several times as she left the living room. She walked down the main hallway glancing at the weathered, framed photos that hung on the walls. About halfway along she came upon a wooden door that creaked open as she approached it. 

“Hello?” She called out.

No answer.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sara.” She muttered to herself. “It’s just an old house.”

She passed through the entrance to the basement and slowly descended the stairs. Each one creaked underfoot. Reaching the bottom, she glanced around the space. Various junk items lay strewn about; an old-fashioned iron on an ornate trivet, steel frames from old wagons laid here and there, tools hung on the far wall and in a box next to the weathered wooden table was a cardboard box full of axes. She heard a giggle and shuffling of feet as though a child had run from one side of the room to the other. 

“Hello?” Sara called. “Is anyone there?”

She silently made her way forward to find the source of the sound. She stopped dead centre of the room and steadied her breathing, straining her ears.

“Cool, don’t you think?” Josiah said, suddenly appearing behind Sara.

She shrieked and jumped in alarm.

“Are you okay, honey?”

“You startled me, that’s all.”

Josiah walked towards the cardboard box full of axes. He picked one up and ran his hand along the wooden shaft. He noticed at least two dozen tools on the wall nearby. “Wow, whoever lived here had a thing for sharp objects.”

Sara’s eyes widened as she saw blood appear on the blade of the axe. It ran down the wooden handle, Josiah’s arm and dripped onto the dirty ground at his feet. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Honey?” Concern etched on his rugged, barely shaven face.

Sara blinked. The blood disappeared.

“Honey,” Josiah repeated as he deposited the axe into the box and walked towards his wife. He put his arms gently on her hips and pulled her towards him. “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

She shuddered, “I’m fine. It’s just a new, strange house. That’s all.”

They made their way out of the cellar, Josiah’s hand gently on the small of her back as they ascended the wooden staircase.

***

The truck arrived the following day. 

Josiah spent the morning moving the antique furniture into a clear section of the basement to make room for their own belongings. Sara carried the boxes into the house and placed each one in the room corresponding to their labels. 

The spare room downstairs became Josiah’s office. He was a day trader and freelance web designer who spent long hours working from home. Sara used to be a kindergarten teacher who quit while they were trying to conceive. After so much disappointment with trying to have a family of her own, she felt she couldn’t return to teaching. She had written various fictional pieces and her goal was to publish something one day.

She got lost in her momentary daydream as she noticed the house had floorboards throughout. As if Josiah was reading her mind, he unexpectedly appeared in the doorway and said, “I should go to the hardware store once the truck is unloaded. There is nothing structurally wrong with them and a little varnish should bring them up real nice.”

“Huh?” Sara said as she made her way upstairs with another box. “Oh, sounds good. Sorry, honey. I guess I am just feeling a little distracted.”

“I noticed you were staring at the floorboards. It will be okay, sweetheart. There is a lot to get done, but it will soon feel like home soon. I promise.”

After Josiah had brought in the last box, he eagerly grabbed the keys off the kitchen bench. “Are you sure you don’t want to come into town with me?”

“I’m sure. There is a lot I want to do around here. You go have fun.”

“I have my cell if you need me.”

“Okay.” She said, smiling.

He kissed her on the forehead and closed the front door behind him.

***

The house was abuzz with chatter and cables. Once the electricians had left Sara set about unpacking the remaining boxes. She started with the kitchen first, unpacked the living room items, dining room and finally the bathroom. Satisfied with her progress she returned to her new kitchen for some afternoon tea. 

She halted in the entrance to the dining room. Embedded in the table's centre was an axe; It stuck up at a weird angle like a shabby-chic sculpture. She felt her skin break out into goosebumps; the hair on the back of her neck prickled. Someone had driven the axe into the timber so hard that she took a good five minutes to wiggle it free. She stood with the axe limply by her side as she stared at the gouge left behind. 

The heavy implement fell to the floor with a thud when Sara noticed still wet blood dripping from the blade. She held her hands up to her face; they shook violently as she stared wide-mouthed at the crimson liquid making little rivers down her wrists. Mortified, she staggered backwards, lost her footing and fell hard against the floorboards. She scrambled on her butt and hands to get away from it until her back was against the side of the staircase. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard it hurt.

Suddenly the front door opened. Josiah stumbled in backwards loaded up with several hessian bags. “Honey, I’m home!”

He didn’t seem to notice her as he entered the dining room. Sara sat rigidly, still hard up against the staircase, not uttering a single word and shaking violently. The bloody axe was still on the ground where she had dropped it; Josiah had stepped right over it as though it wasn’t even there. She watched him walk back through the dining room. He suddenly stopped and bent down to pick the axe up. That’s when he noticed his wife, trembling at the other side of the lounge room. She had her knees bent up to her chin, her arms around them and was staring straight at him, almost in a catatonic state.

“Sara!” He left the axe where it was and rushed to her side.

She continued to stare straight ahead, her eyes wide and unmoving. Josiah crouched near her and gently squeezed her hands, trying to get a response. 

“Honey!” He cried, growing desperate. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. Blinking several times, she stared at Josiah as though noticing him for the first time. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes and trickled down her cheek. Her lips quivered as she tried to find the words to explain to her husband what had happened.

“Are you hurt?” He asked, frantically checking her over. “What happened to the table?”

Sara shook her head. “I–I was unpacking and I s–stopped to have tea.” She lifted a shaky arm and pointed at the dining table. Josiah glanced behind him. “I w–walked into the dining room and f–found that axe stuck in the table.”

Josiah listened intently while Sara spoke.

A-and my h–hands…” She continued. “Th–there was so much b–blood.” 

Sara lifted them to her face expecting to see dried blood. They were clean.

“Wh–what?” 

Josiah gently cupped her face and looked into her worrisome eyes. He helped her to her feet and led her to the nearest recliner. He released the mechanism in the chair to elevate her feet and kissed her on the forehead before disappearing into the kitchen. He came back minutes later with a cup of hot tea for his wife, which he placed on the side table next to her.

She looked up at him and with trembling lips said, “I saw it. You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

“Of course not, honey.” He responded soothingly.

“I saw it. I really did.”

“Honey,” Josiah said tenderly. “Have you taken your meds today?”

“I–I don’t remember…” she responded, looking down at her shaky hands.Josiah handed the cup to her and retrieved her pills from the first aid cupboard in the kitchen. 

Sara found it hard to cope after the mental decline and eventual suicide of her sister years beforehand. 

“Drink your tea, sweetheart. It’s chamomile. It will calm your nerves.” 

He headed into the dining room to assess the damage to the table.

***

There was no mark at all, not even a scratch. If the axe had penetrated the timber at all there would be an indent, especially given what his wife had described.

He scratched his head as he picked up the axe. He looked up and down the length for any traces of blood. He found no blood on the blade or the handle. He cast a glance toward his wife before returning the axe to the cellar. She sat sipping her tea quietly, staring towards the fireplace apparently oblivious to his movement.

He scanned the room before returning upstairs. Sara was still in the recliner when he entered the room, fast asleep. He smiled as he watched the hairpin curve of her lips; she often smiled in her sleep and he loved the sound of her gentle snoring. She looked completely at peace. He left her to rest while he set about double-checking the locks and latches on all the windows and doors.

He retrieved tools and the deadbolt he bought earlier from the hardware store and as quietly as he could, installed it on the front door. He double checked it to make sure the mechanism was working correctly.

When he was certain the house was secure, he headed into his office to unpack the last of his boxes while Sara snored in the next room.

Sara’s eyes twitched and flickered as she entered REM sleep.

***

It had three tall bookshelves that just fit along one wall. He sucked in a breath as he set the last one in place, almost pinching his fingers between it and the wall. Next to go in was his large mahogany desk. It had 4 locked drawers, a pull-out table for a keyboard and a space on the bottom right to put his desktop computer. Within ten minutes he had the computer hooked up to the network and running. He took down all the wall hangings and placed them in a box for the attic crawl space. He hoped that one day he would find relations to the original owners of the house so he could give them a piece of their family history.

There were various pictures of the original occupants of the house. 4 children and 2 adults appeared throughout many of the photographs. He grabbed the last one off the wall; in it was the entire family. He didn’t know much about them other than they were the original owners of the house back in the early twentieth century.

The photos were all black and white but had taken on a sepia tinge throughout the years. In the foreground sat the children, three boys and one girl. Each dressed in clothing relative to the early twentieth century; the boys each wore plain slacks, a collared shirt buttoned up to the top button, suspenders, a little bow tie and matching newsboy cap. The girl wore an ankle length dress with a gather in the shoulders and puffy skirt.The woman’s long, dark hair pulled into an elaborate bun under a fine wide-brimmed hat with a small floral arrangement on one side and a corset style dress that came in at the waist. She was sitting behind the children with her legs together to one side and her hands clasped loosely in her lap. The man was standing next to her behind the children. He had one hand on her shoulder and the other held a cane. He was wearing a suit with a bow tie, was clean shaven and had his dark hair combed neatly to one side. They all wore genuine smiles on their faces.

Suddenly the woman’s facial expression changed; her smile faded, and she looked down upon her children with great sadness in her eyes. The children suddenly looked terrified. Josiah blinked several times. 

“Hm.” He muttered to himself as he noticed the faces still wore their smiles. “I need to get my eyes checked.”

He deposited the last framed picture into the box and went back to sorting out the study.

***

Gusts of wind blew the curtains inward. 

A group of eight entered the dwelling cheerfully after returning home from a church function. Two local girls, Lena and Ina had returned to the home with them for a sleepover at the request the Moore girl. 

“Time for bed, children.” 

“But we’re not even tired.” Herman groaned, rubbing his eyes.

“I know,” the man said, “But it has been a long day. Say goodnight to your mother, and off to bed with you.”

“Yes, father.” The three boys chimed together, somewhat reluctantly. They kissed their mother gently on the cheek and headed to the upstairs bedroom they shared.

“You too, my dear.” He said, looking at his daughter. 

“Yes, father,” Mary said, as she kissed her mother goodnight and headed to her room upstairs. Ina and Lena followed close behind her.

The parents sat down by the fire while they engaged in cheerful discussion before retiring to their own room for the night. 

Sometime later, Ina and Lena shook their parents awake.

“We can’t sleep.” The smaller of the girls said. 

“There is a strange knocking noise coming from the ceiling,” Lena added.

“I’ll go.” The man said to his wife, as he climbed out of his bed, pulled on his slippers and grabbed the kerosene lamp off the dresser.

He stood in his daughter’s room as he listened for the noise the girls described. The light from his lamp flickered and danced around the room, casting eerie shadows on the bedroom walls. His daughter lay sleeping soundly in her bed undisturbed by the sound the other girls supposedly heard. He checked on the boys’ room as Lena and Ina waited outside in the hallway. All three boys were sleeping soundly in their beds, face down with one leg bent at a ninety-degree angle; it was a warm night, and they had pulled the top sheet off.

He returned to the frightened girls. 

“I can’t hear any knocking.”

“We heard it, sir.” The girls cried timidly in unison. “Honest!”

“Well, whatever it was, it isn’t there now.”

He tried to escort them back to their beds, but they refused to budge, visibly shaken. He took the mattresses downstairs to the parlour.

“There,” he said as he made up the second mattress. “That should be comfortable enough for you girls.”

“Thank you, sir.” They yawned as they climbed between the sheets. 

“Goodnight girls.” He said as he trudged upstairs towards his room.

***

Sara drifted around the darkened house. Rounding a corner, she bumped into something.

“Ouch! That’ll leave a mark,” she muttered. As her eyes acclimatized to the darkness, she faltered. Scanning the room, she realised the furniture wasn’t hers. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. The side tables, mirrors, rugs, nothing was modern. It all looked very dated. Something you would expect to see in a household from around the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

She headed upstairs cautiously, glancing at the wall hangings as she ascended the stairs to the second-floor landing. Pictures of someone else’s family hung in antique wooden frames. At first, she thought one picture was of her and her husband. Upon looking closely, she discovered that the photographs were of the original owners of the house; she recognised them from a box she found in the study earlier that morning. Strange, Sara could have sworn the man looked like her husband. 

She reached the second floor and headed to the master bedroom. The house was eerily quiet. A sudden breeze went right through her, chilling her to the bone. She felt the wall for the light switch and could not find one. She continued to fumble her way through the darkness, looking for a light source. Running her hands along surfaces, ones she did not find familiar, she suddenly came across an object. She walked over to the window and drew back the curtain; there was just enough moonlight to make out the shape of the object in her hands, a kerosene lamp. She recalled seeing one just like it in the basement not long after they had moved in. 

“That’s funny,” she mumbled. “How did it get here?”

Setting it back down, she searched through the drawers for a lighter or matches. She saw the knob turn right before her eyes and suddenly the gas was burning softly.

Hesitantly, she grabbed the lamp handle and turned one-eighty degrees. 

“What the hell.” She mumbled.

Where once stood their two large, modern wardrobes now sat a smaller, older one. The modern crystal lamps either side of the bed were not there, nor were the bedside drawers they usually sat on. Framed photos of herself and her husband were missing; the dressing table was antique and weathered, not the brand new one they bought a few months ago.

A cast iron bed frame now took the space of where their king-sized en-suite had been, and on top was a feather-stuffed mattress, judging by the contents spilling out of a small hole. The quilt cover was not the black, silver and blue one given to her and her husband as a wedding gift but rather, a simple, scratchy, handmade blanket.

Feeling disoriented and confused, it took a while before she noticed the lumps beneath the blanket. Their chests rose and fell with each breath; she reeled back in horror as the male in the bed muttered to himself incoherently and rolled over. The person next to him was a woman with long brown hair in a loose, messy braid. 

She felt her heart thud in her throat but drew closer to the sleeping pair. Aged around the mid-thirties, maybe forties, they slept peacefully unaware that Sara was hovering over them. Something seemed different about them; she studied their faces carefully as they lay there oblivious to Sara’s presence. 

“It can’t be…” she muttered, taking several steps backwards. 

The man and the woman matched the people in the framed pictures her and Josiah had stored in a box in the attic. Intrigued more than afraid, she moved toward them again until she was standing right over the bed. They snored softly while she hovered over them. Several minutes seemed to pass. Suddenly something in the air shifted. 

Sara froze in terror as she watched the woman’s head visibly disfigure and transform into something unrecognizable as though someone was striking her with a heavy, blunt object. Blood spattered the walls, and she heard a sickening crack as the skull opened. It happened so fast the woman didn’t even attempt to scream. Sara was absolutely paralyzed by fear. The man groaned and rolled over again. Without warning, his head split open. Sara choked on her own bile as she watched the blood and brain matter ooze out of the gaping hole in his head.

Suddenly she heard a terrified boy’s scream; it startled her, but she headed toward where the sound had come from. She stopped dead in her tracks in a bedroom doorway down the hall. Blood decorated the walls like an abstractly macabre artwork; three boys lay in their beds, nothing left of their skulls except traces of brown matted hair, sticky coagulate and grey matter. 

Sara retched as she stumbled towards the staircase. Whimpering came from the second room on the right. Crimson liquid spattered the walls above a girl’s bed. Her tiny pale body laid there motionless; her head crushed so badly that her face was unidentifiable.

She held on to the rail for support as she almost collapsed down the stairs. She tripped as she hit the first floor, landing hard on the floorboards. She glanced up and wished she hadn’t. Another bloody mess wearing a floral nightgown lay motionless on a mattress beneath one of the parlour windows. 

“Don’t hurt me.” A girl sobbed, startling Sara. She watched wide-eyed as the girl slowly backed away from her, palms raised defensively.

“I–I wouldn’t…” Sara murmured as she approached the terrified little girl.

“No!” She screamed, frantically trying to crawl away. Her dress was torn, and she had blood on her hands. “I want to go home.”

“Come, I won’t hurt you, Sara said. The little girl didn’t seem to hear her words or ignored them.

“Please…” The girl sobbed. Sara continued to walk towards her, desperately trying to calm the small child. 

“Mom–” she attempted to cry out. Without warning, her head split in half; blood sprayed outwards from the violent force of the impalpable blow. She fell limply to the floor; her face twisted in terror permanently.

***

Sara screamed; she sat bolt upright in her bed. Sweat soaked her nightie and bed sheets. She rubbed her face with her hands. Upon taking her hands away, her face felt sticky and dirty. Josiah was sleeping peacefully beside her. She decided not to wake him. It had been a long day, and they were both tired.

Climbing out of bed she threw on her satin robe and padded to the bathroom across the hall. She flicked on the bathroom light switch and turned the cool faucet. Cupping her hands under the tap, she scooped the water and splashed her face. Opaque red liquid spiralled in the basin towards the plughole. The mirror reflected a crazed looking woman back at her; a woman with dark red smears on her face, brown hair streaked with some coagulated, clotty mess and the hands of a bloodthirsty serial killer.

She let out a spine-tingling scream…

***

Josiah flicked on the lamp beside him. His wife was thrashing around and screaming. After about a minute of him trying to rouse her, she finally woke. Sweat was pouring off her; her breathing was quick and shallow. He could feel her heart thudding in her chest just by being next to her. 

“Honey.” He said, gently grabbing her face and looking into her eyes with great concern. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head as her body trembled violently.

“Th–there is something wrong with this house, Josiah.”

“Sh.” He said as he pulled her close and held her tiny shaking body in his arms. “It was a nightmare, sweetheart. Everything is okay.”

“They were all d–dead.” She stammered. “All of them…” Sara stared straight ahead as she spoke.

Josiah hushed soothingly as he coaxed her to lie back down. He stroked her hair gently until she snored softly. He turned off the lamp and settled back down behind her, holding her as her breathing slowed and deepened.

***

“Today’s the day, sweetheart,” Josiah said as Sara entered the kitchen. He woke up early to prepare a cooked breakfast for him and his wife; poached eggs on toast, rashers of bacon, fried mushrooms in butter, fried tomatoes smothered in tasty cheese and a pot of hot coffee to wash it down.

“Sit.” He said happily, as he gestured toward the dining table. Sara pulled out a chair and sat at the table, yawning.

“I just got off the phone,” Josiah announced as he ran a knife around the inside of the poaching cups and carefully slid the eggs out onto two plates one by one. “Mary Katherine arrives this morning.”

It took a few moments for Sara to understand the words that came out of her husband’s mouth. Suddenly she stood up, threw the chair back and darted toward the stairs. 

“What about breakfast?!” Josiah called out after her.

“I’ll be back down in a minute!” She called back.

She showered, applied deodorant, perfume and a floral dress reserved for special occasions before leaping down the stairs two at a time. Quick as a flash she was back at the table, the food in front of her still warm. She tucked in eagerly, but careful not to stain her new clothes.

The doorbell rang.

***

Josiah and Sara leapt to their feet to answer the front door. A dark-skinned, portly woman with a kind heart-shaped face dressed in a navy-blue pencil skirt and jacket combo stood on the landing.

“Hi, I am Alsea. I am from the Stanton Adoption Agency here in Iowa.” She extended one hand, smiling genuinely. 

Welcome,” Josiah said, jovially as he shook her hand and ushered her inside. “Won’t you come in?”

“Thank you.” She said as she wiped her feet on the mat before entering the house.

Josiah and Sara took a few steps back as Alsea stepped over the threshold.

“Come, Mary Katherine,” Alsea said behind her. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”

A small, thin girl appeared cautiously from behind Alsea, gripping the woman’s hand. She looked up at the couple timidly with her piercing blue eyes. Her blonde curls bounced around her delicate face as she offered a shy smile before darting behind Alsea again.

Sara crouched down until she was about eye level with the small child. “Hello, Mary Katherine. My name is Sara.”

“That is a beautiful name, Mary Katherine. It was my grandmother’s name too.” Josiah added, smiling.

The little girl peeked out from behind Alsea, just enough so that Sara could see one half of her face. “This is Josiah,” She said, gesturing toward her husband. “We have your room all ready. What is your favourite colour?”

“Pink.” The girl responded in a voice smaller than she was.

“Would you like to see your new bedroom?” Sara said sweetly, extending a hand towards Mary Katherine.

The little girl thought for a moment before letting go of Alsea’s hand and walking toward her adoptive parents. She held Sara’s hand gingerly as they led her upstairs. Alsea followed closely behind them.

“Wow!” Mary Katherine exclaimed as Sara pushed open the door to reveal Mary Katherine’s room. Josiah had painted the room light pink, with unicorn themed wallpaper around the room a third of the way up the walls. The cornices and skirting boards were dark pinks to match the background of the wallpaper. Her magenta light fixture had tear-shaped crystals that hung delicately around it. Sara flicked the light on; light reflected off the crystals, covering the walls and ceiling in little, pretty rainbows. She had a white four-poster bed with subtle pink tulle hanging from the vertical poles at the top between each set of posts. Her bedspread had a huge unicorn screen printed on it. Her furniture comprised a white tall boy with dark pink handles, a dressing table with a re-purposed antique mirror and a small pink ottoman with gold trim. In front of the windows hung vinyl backed pearl white curtains tied either side of the window with light, pink cord.

“The quilt cover glows in the dark,” Sara said. “Do you like it?”

Mary Katherine offered no words in response, but her excitement spread across her porcelain face. She ran to the item in the far corner of the room. It was an antique-looking doll house that Josiah had found while depositing the box of old, framed pictures in the attic. He made minor repairs, sanded it and used dark walnut wood stain to restore it to the original colour of the house. 

“Josiah even hand-crafted a few pieces of doll furniture,” Sara said, smiling at him.

“And Sara designed outfits for the dolls we found in the attic.” He added as he handed Mary Katherine four tiny porcelain dolls dressed in handmade periodic garb. 

She took the dolls from Josiah and played immediately. The trio headed downstairs and left Mary Katherine to her newly found toys. Sara put on a pot of coffee, sliced the pumpkin spice cake and brought it out on a silver tray.

They talked for a while over coffee and cake. Alsea glanced around the room every so often but said little until it was almost time to leave.

“Congratulations on the adoption. I’ve taken care of the paperwork and everything appears to be in order. Mary Katherine looks thrilled here. We contacted the family law court and filed a petition for a change of surname for Mary Katherine on your behalf,” she said as she handed Josiah a card. “Someone will contact you by the end of the month with the outcome, although I don’t see it being a problem. Their number is on that card.”

“Wow, thank you so much,” Sara said.

“You are most welcome.” She responded, fidgeting with her top jacket button. “My direct number is on the card, should you have any problems.” She added as she glanced toward the second-floor landing.

The couple saw her out and waved her off. They exchanged curious glances before heading back inside.

***

It didn’t take long for Mary Katherine to warm to her new parents, Sara especially.

“Mom,” she said as she looked at Sara over her plate of meatloaf, mashed potato and vegetables. 

Sara glanced at her husband. He sat there, cheeks bulging and a huge smile on his face; his fork poised mid-air loaded with the next mouthful.

“What?” Sara asked, smiling back at Josiah. 

“Nothing, I am just happy. That’s all.” He mumbled, as masticated meatloaf missiles flew out of his mouth.

“Mommy.” Mary Katherine repeated, softly.

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“It is okay if I call you mom, isn’t it?” She asked, raising one eyebrow.

“I would love that,” Sara smiled. “What do you want me to call you, Pumpkin?”

“Mary Katherine is fine.” She said. “Or Pumpkin, I like Pumpkin too.” She added, giggling.

Mary Katherine finished her dinner. “May I please be excused?”

“You have beautiful manners,” Sara said.

Josiah smiled at Mary Katherine. “We have ice cream for dessert though.”

“On second thoughts,” she said in her tiny voice. “I think I will stay if you don’t mind.”

Josiah and Sara chuckled. Mary Katherine stayed in her chair, eagerly waiting for her frozen dessert.

Afterwards, Mary Katherine hopped down from her chair and cleared the table.

“Oh, you don't need to do that, sweetheart,” Sara said.

“It’s okay, Mommy. I like helping.”

Josiah made a start on the dishes while Sara took Mary Katherine upstairs for a bath. She turned the hot and cold taps on and ran her hand under the water until it was a suitable temperature. Grabbing a pink bath sheet from the cupboard, she hung it over the steel fixture and set her new pyjamas down on the edge of the basin.

“Can you stay, Mommy?” Mary Katherine said, grabbing Sara’s hand as she was about to leave the bathroom. “I don’t like being alone.”

“Of course, sweetheart.”

Mary Katherine giggled as she played in the bubbles. Sara washed her hair, helped her out of the bath and gently dried her off. 

“I love these pyjamas.” She said as she modelled them for Sara.

“I am glad you like them,” Sara said, smiling. “Do you know how to brush your teeth?”

 “I’m five, Mom,” she responded, matter-of-factly.

Sara laughed. “That you are, darling.”

Once in Mary Katherine’s bedroom, Sara grabbed a handful of the tulle bed curtains and tied them to a bedpost with some cord. She pulled back the covers and tucked her daughter in. 

“Watch this!” Sara said, excited as she crossed the room and flicked off the light switch. The room lit up immediately; thousands of tiny stars blanketed the walls and ceiling. The outline of the unicorn on her quilt glowed brightly.

“Wow!” Mary Katherine said, gasping. She clapped her hands excitedly and squealed, “I love it! I love it!”

“Oh, I am so glad!” Sara said, hugging her in a moment of pure emotion. “Oh, sorry.” She said, releasing her grip on Mary Katherine.

“Why are you sorry, Mommy?”

“I–It’s nothing, sweetheart.”

“You’re worried about giving me a hug?”

“I don’t want you to feel pressured,” Sara said, smiling.

“I love you, Mommy.” She said as she threw her arms around Sara’s neck.

Sara returned the hug, beaming with happiness. She was still grinning when Mary Katherine let go. “What is it, Mommy?”

“I am just happy, that’s all.” Sara kissed her goodnight and padded out of the room, glancing back at the blue-eyed, blonde-haired little princess tucked up snuggly in her bed. “Sweet dreams, Pumpkin.”

“Pumpkin,” she said, giggling. “Goodnight, Mommy.”

“I will get your Dad to come and tuck you in.” She said as she left the room.

By the time Josiah made it upstairs, she was already asleep. He kissed her on the forehead and swept her soft curls away from her face before returning to the living room. When she could hear his footsteps descending the stairs, Mary Katherine opened one eye and grinned.

***

With all the excitement of Mary Katherine’s arrival, the pair seemed to forget about the strange happenings in the house and the vivid nightmare Sara had only the night before.

The fire spitting and crackling within the hearth cast a flicking glow around the loungeroom. Josiah entered the room with a tray of hot cocoa and cookies. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. The tray fell to the floor with a loud clatter; the contents scattered as mugs and saucers broke, sending shards of ceramic all over the place. 

His throat dried up; his vocal cords twisting into knots making it impossible for him to scream. Four children stood in front of the parlour fireplace all dressed in periodic clothing. They made no noise, their expressions neutral. In unison, they lifted their right arm and gestured toward the staircase. Josiah slowly followed their arms until he could see what they were pointing at.

A girl stood on the top step. The curly blonde ringlets atop her head tinged matted and red along with her blood-smeared face; she grinned menacingly, her piercing blue eyes bored into his with fierce intensity. Her pyjamas in tatters, embellished with several crimson marks in the form of smudged handprints. With still wet hands, she raised a bloody axe high above her head.

***

Josiah woke to find Mary Katherine standing at the end of the bed holding an axe. He reeled back in horror, suddenly wide awake.

“What’s that matter, Daddy?” Mary Katherine asked, twirling her pretty, floral skirt from side to side. An unnatural smile spread across her lips.

“N–Nothing,” he stammered. He blinked, and the axe was no longer in her hand. Instead, she was holding one of her porcelain dolls.

“You’re silly Daddy.” She giggled as she skipped out of the room.

Josiah sat in bed, suddenly aware of the pain in his fingers; he had been gripping onto the feather-down quilt so tightly that his knuckles were pale white. As he relinquished his colossal grip, he noticed he had unintentionally made a tear in the fabric; feathers whooshed out of the hole as he attempted to better assess the damage.

“Sara is gonna kill me.” He sighed.

He rolled the doona into a ball carefully and trundled downstairs. Sara was in the kitchen cooking pancakes with Mary Katherine. They were using mixed berries to give the pancakes faces. Mary Katherine giggled. “Daddy, come and look at the funny pancakes.”

Sara smiled down at their little girl as Josiah approached the kitchen apprehensively. 

“Come on, Daddy.” Mary Katherine said, her pale blue eyes twinkling with delight. “They won’t bite you. The faces aren’t real, silly.” 

Sara laughed as she turned to wash fry pan and stainless-steel spatula. She suddenly noticed the bundled package in his arms. “What’s that?”

“I uh, I accidentally put a hole in the feather down.” He said, genuinely apologetic.

She frowned as she inspected the doona. “Oh, it’s not that big; just a simple repair job. I can’t do it until this afternoon though. I have errands to run in town. Would you look after Mary Katherine for the day? It shouldn't take long.”

“No problem.” He responded, happy that she was finally attempting to leave the house. “I am sure we will have lots of fun.”

“We sure will, Daddy.” Mary Katherine said, smiling sweetly.

***

After making pasta necklaces, collages with leaves and feathers they had gathered from the backyard and finger painting, Josiah asked Mary Katherine to play in her room for a while.

“Sure Daddy,” she said, her curls bouncing around her shoulders with each step.

Josiah smiled. He shrugged off his worries; perhaps he was exhibiting signs of stress, lack of sleep and the large-scale move. He shook his head at how silly he had been. He typed up a few notes in his office and put on some daily trades, then headed to the kitchen to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

“Mary Katherine!” He called from the bottom of the stairs. “Lunch is ready.”

He sat at the table and took a bite of his first sandwich. Mary Katherine hadn’t appeared after two minutes. He called out from the bottom of the stairs again, this time a little louder. After getting no response he set his plate down on the coffee table nearby and made his way up the wooden staircase.

As he got closer to his daughter's room, he heard mumbling, incoherent at first. When he was almost at the doorway, the words he heard gave him pause and made the hair on his neck prickle. 

“Maim. Kill. Murder…”

He paused, trying to listen more intently. Silence.

“Mary Katherine?” He whispered, feeling an icy chill touch the exposed skin on his arms. 

She was sitting in front of her antique doll house. Her right arm was frantically moving up and down, side to side and he could hear scratching against wood. 

“Mary Katherine!” He cried. “Why?”

She was defacing the antique dollhouse he and his wife had painstakingly restored for her. He entered the bedroom, about to chastise his adopted daughter.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” She said, without turning around. 

Josiah froze. “What did you say?” He asked, slowly.

“Silly Daddy.” Mary Katherine said. “You really should learn to listen. Bad things happen to people who don’t listen.” 

Josiah caught sight of the sharp knife in her right hand as she turned to face him.

***

He jolted upright. It took about a minute to realize he was sitting in his office chair at his computer desk. 

“What the hell…” he said aloud. “I fell asleep?”

He rocketed upright in his chair when he realised that he had left a five-year-old alone for who knows how long. “Mary Katherine!” He spun one-eighty degrees in the chair, finding himself face to face with her.

“I’m here, Daddy.” She giggled. “You look funny when you sleep. You drool, did you know?”

Josiah rose to his feet and led her to the kitchen to make a late lunch. They were chowing down on some ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches when Sara stepped into the parlour.

“Mommy!” Mary Katherine squealed, hopping down off her chair and running at her mother with her arms outstretched.

“How was your day, sweetheart?” 

“It was fine. We made necklaces from pasta elbows, made a nature collage and painted with our hands!”

“Wow! That’s awesome, baby!” She exclaimed as Mary Katherine handed her the pieces of art, proudly.

“Then Daddy took a nap while I played with my favourite dollies.”

Sara made no comment on Mary Katherine’s last confession but gave Josiah a disapproving look then turned to smile at their daughter. 

“We should hang the painting and collage on the fridge.”

“Oh, could we, mommy?”

“Absolutely, Pumpkin!” 

Mary Katherine grinned at Josiah as she bounded into the kitchen behind her mother.

***

Josiah lit the fire and settled down into the recliner next to Sara. She sat in the other recliner with her feet up meticulously mending the hole in the doona with a needle and cotton thread.

“So, what did you get up to today, hon?”

“Oh, I ordered some new office supplies and found a few cute items to put in the guest bedroom.” She paused for a moment before adding, “I need not ask what you were doing.”

“I’m sorry, Honey. I guess I just dozed off,” he said. “I swear I was asleep for maybe half an hour at most.”

“She is five, Josiah.”

Josiah cringed. Her tone took him back to when he was a kid, and his mother chastised him. A tone Sara rarely used with him. “It wasn’t intentional. And she is fine!” He added as an afterthought, hoping to diffuse the tension.

“Accidents can happen in a split second.”

“It won’t happen again,” said Josiah, trying to placate his wife. 

Sara said nothing but continued to mend the hole in the doona. Josiah left the living room to make them both a hot chocolate. As he reentered the parlour, his wife was sitting perfectly still in the chair; she must have finished mending the quilt.

“Oh great. You fixed it?” He asked as he rounded the recliner. Suddenly, he dropped the tray; his wife was in her chair, still holding the needle and thread, her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

“What the heck is wrong with you?” Her voice trembled as she scrambled to clean up the mess. 

Josiah blinked a few times; there was nothing wrong with his wife. 

“What the hell, Josiah?” She cried as she wiped the coffee table and collected the pieces of broken kitchenware, placing them on the tray.

Josiah stood silently feeling entirely defeated, wearing the face of a man who couldn’t even explain to his wife what he had been experiencing.

What is wrong with me? He thought. Am I going crazy? 

His heart sank; his wife had never looked at him like that before, scared, upset and confused.

***

Josiah was rather aloof for the following few days. Sara had not spoken to him either. He kept to his office mostly while Sara spent much of her time playing with Mary Katherine.

Someone knocked on the front door; Sara ran to answer it. Mary Katherine was busy drawing at the coffee table.

“Sweetheart!” 

“Mom! Dad!” Sara said greeting her parents and in-laws and gestured for them to come inside. “How was the drive?”

“Oh, you know your father.” Sara’s mother, Vera replied with strained laughter. “He never likes to take breaks when going on long road trips. He only does it under duress. Can you show me to the bathroom?”

“I can show you,” said a tiny voice from the parlour

“Well, who’s this now?” Sara’s father, Paul said as he walked toward Mary Katherine.

“I’m Mary Katherine and I’m five.” 

The four grandparents admired their new granddaughter. She sat doodling at the coffee table but smiled sweetly at them.

“Oh, you are so precious.” Josiah’s mother, Florence said she sat by Mary Katherine, kneeling. “Isn’t she, Arthur?”

“What are you drawing there, sweetheart?” Arthur asked, cheerfully.

The little girl held up her half-finished picture proudly. “It’s not ready yet. I still need to draw the faces.” She pointed to each stick figure as she spoke. “That’s Mommy and Daddy. That’s Grandma Vera and Grandpa Paul. Right there, that’s Grandma Florence and Grandpa Arthur. And that’s me, the small one in the middle.”

“That is impressive, pumpkin,” Paul said, smiling.

“I got all the names correct?”

“You sure did, princess,” Arthur said, mussing her hair.

Mary Katherine went back to her drawing while Sara led the group of weary guests to the kitchen. 

“I made a pot of coffee.” She said. “Would you care for a cup?” 

“Yes, please.” Three of the four replied.

“Oh, not me, thanks, love,” Vera said. “My back teeth are floating. Can you point me toward the bathroom?” 

“It’s upstairs, second door on the right,” Sara said, pointing toward the living room.

“Oh, silly me,” Mary Katherine bounced toward Vera. “I forgot.”

“That’s quite all right, darling.” Vera smiled.

Mary Katherine offered her hand to Vera and led her to the restroom. The remaining four stood in the kitchen sipping their coffees and catching up. Josiah appeared in the kitchen with an empty mug.

“Mom, Dad?” He said, suddenly realizing that they had visitors. “How? When did you get in?”

“We all wanted to surprise you,” Sara said.

“We came to meet our new Granddaughter, and get a tour of the new house, son,” Arthur said, clapping him on the shoulder. 

“How long are you all staying?” Josiah asked, smiling for the first time in days.

“We have made arrangements for a week,” Florence replied. “We wanted to be here for your birthday.”

Josiah had forgotten all about his birthday. His wife must have been organizing it secret while she was in town. A loud scream from upstairs shook him out of his reverie. There was a clatter of coffee cups as everyone placed them on the breakfast bar and raced toward the second floor. Josiah charged upstairs, thinking the worst; he got to the bathroom first.

“Vera? Honey?” Paul called out, not far behind Josiah. The hysterical screaming was coming from the other side of the door. Josiah tried to turn the knob, but someone had locked the door from the inside.

“Mom?” He yelled. “Can you open the door?”

The screaming continued.

it the door burst open; little ligneous missiles went flying everywhere from the split timber frame. Vera was in the bathtub; her eyes wide and her screams relentless. She was gesturing toward the toilet, her body shaking violently.

“Oh, Jesus, Vera,” Paul said, coaxing an eight-legged creature onto the palm of his hand. “It’s just a spider.” He scooped it up carefully into one hand and headed downstairs to release it outside.

“Are you okay, Mom?” He asked her, concerned. His mother’s arachnophobia was no family secret. If he was being honest, he was not fond of them either. He helped his frightened mother out of the tub and led her back downstairs.

When they returned, Mary Katherine was sitting quietly at the coffee table. 

“Do you like it?” she asked, holding the completed artwork for everyone to see. 

Josiah’s throat suddenly felt like it was closing. All the faces were happy, except for his. He had black crosses for eyes and a down-turned line for a mouth. He clutched at his throat as his skin went pale and his eyes watered. Each attempt to breathe fanned the burning feeling in his lungs. His entire body went limp, and he blacked out before he hit the floor.

***

“Son…”

“Sweetheart, are you okay?”

His vision slowly returned to normal; his parents, in-laws and wife were all bent over him, worry painted across all their faces.

“What happened, honey?” His wife asked, fanning him with some paper. Josiah slowly got to his feet with the help of his parents.

“I–I don’t know.” 

“Must have been some kind of dizzy spell.” His father said. “One moment you were there and next minute it was lights out.”

“Are you okay?” His mother asked, fussing over him. “Come, sit.” 

Josiah shakily walked to the recliner and nestled down into it. He still felt a touch uneasy and nauseated.

“Daddy!” Mary Katherine called suddenly, startling Josiah. “You didn’t get to see my picture.”

She grabbed the piece of paper and brought it to him; Josiah sunk back further into his seat to get away from her. Sara seemed to notice, gave Josiah a quizzical look and intercepted their daughter. 

“How about we stick it on the fridge, Pumpkin?”

“But Daddy didn’t get to see it.” She said, pouting.

“He will, sweetheart,” Sara said, tenderly. “He isn’t feeling well, that’s all. He’ll be okay.”

***

Early the next morning Sara and Josiah awoke to loud voices and thumping noises on the staircase. They headed toward the commotion and found their parents wheeling their heavy suitcases into the parlour. All of them looked quite shaken.

“Mom, Dad?” Sara said. “Where are you going?”

“We can’t stay here,” Vera said unsteadily.

“What? Why?” Sara sputtered.

“You only just got here,” Josiah added.

“I’m sorry, son,” Arthur said. Even he looked alarmed, and he was not a man that was easily unnerved. 

The four headed outside and straight to Paul’s sedan without stopping. He opened the boot and tossed the suitcases in haphazardly, slamming it shut. The women slid into the backseat and buckled their belts.

“Mom!” Sara cried, distressed.

“I’m sorry,” Vera said to her daughter, her eyes full of sadness.

“Dad?” Josiah ran toward the car; by the time he reached the driver’s side door, the men were already in the vehicle. Skid marks and smoke in their wake as they peeled out from the curb and took off like a bat out of hell down the street.

***

“Drive faster, Paul!” Arthur said.

Paul put it into fourth gear and kicked it up a notch. They were easily doing twenty miles over the speed limit. The women in the back were sobbing and holding onto each other as the car flew past various dwellings and farmland. It was a long, straight stretch of road for several miles before they reached the highway.

“What about Sara and Josiah?” Florence croaked, swallowing the lump in her throat.

The other three said nothing. Suddenly a small figure darted into the middle of the road. Paul swerved to avoid it. 

“Brake!” Arthur shouted. The women screamed.

“I–I can’t!” He yelled, frantically trying to correct the over-steering. “The brakes aren’t working.” 

Paul grabbed hold of the stick and tried to shift down in gears. “It’s not working!” He yelled.

Arthur grabbed hold of the handbrake and yanked it up, desperately trying to stop the car. It kept flying down the road directly toward the small figure.

As they got closer, the form became more defined; the men swore and the women screamed hysterically. Piercing blue eyes stared at them from under a crop of blonde curls. She smiled suddenly and extended her hands toward the sky. Before Paul react, the car levitated and hurtled through the air like it was a tennis ball. The vehicle collided hard with the ground, crushing the metal body and sending bits of metal and broken lights in every direction. Smoke billowed from under the crumpled hood. It settled upside-down, lights flashing and alarm sounding, in an embankment on the right-hand side of the road.

***

“What the fuck did you do them?” Josiah yelled, shaking Mary Katherine hard by the shoulders.

“Josiah!” Sara screamed, grabbing Mary Katherine by the hand, pulling her away from her husband.

Mary Katherine was whimpering, confused and afraid. Josiah stood fuming in the living room, his face flushed red.

It took a great deal of time for Sara to calm Mary Katherine down. Eventually, she left her to sleep with the door open a crack.

“What the fuck was that?” She shrieked. 

Josiah ran his hands through his hair; his face contorted into an angry grimace. 

“She is evil!” He yelled. “Why the fuck can’t you see that?”

“She is a five-year-old girl, Josiah.”

“And she has got you wrapped tightly around her little finger.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Sara retorted, finding it difficult to keep a level head.

“You don’t see her for what she is.” Josiah spat. “But I do. Oh! I do.”

He grabbed the keys to their car and stormed out the front door, leaving Sara distraught and alone.

***

Sara sat helplessly in the living room. The TV was on; a short news bulletin flashed on the screen. She was only half listening to it at first.

‘Worst road accident in Iowa history… four people… dental records… names not being released until families notified… scattered for a half a mile along Birch Avenue… expect traffic delays…’

“Oh, my god…” Sara said, covering her mouth in shock. A helicopter hovered over the road showing car parts strewn over a large area. 

A knock came from the front door, startling her. She clicked off the TV and opened the door to find two male police officers standing on the landing wearing solemn faces.

“I’m sorry Miss.” The taller one started. “There has been an accident.”

She burst into tears. An officer stepped forward, offering her a strong arm and a shoulder. She knew what they were there for before they said anything further.

***

Hours went by. Sara was pacing back and forth in front of the parlour window. It was late evening and Josiah still hadn’t returned. She had already fed her daughter, bathed her and put her back to bed. 

Headlights shone through the window. Josiah killed the engine and reluctantly entered the house.

“Where were you?”

Josiah dropped the keys onto the kitchen bench but said nothing. He didn’t seem to notice that Sara was crying.

“Josiah,” she said, approaching him with tears running down her cheeks. “There was an accident.” 

“What did she do now?” He mumbled, not making eye contact with his wife.

“What? No,” Sara replied. “You need to sit down, honey.”

He sighed. The tension in his shoulders was palpable and his head was pounding. He reluctantly sat and waited for his wife to speak.

“Our parents are dead.” 

Josiah lifted his head as Sara rushed forward to hug him, sobbing against his chest loudly. She looked up at him with puffy eyes. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” 

He tried to push her away, but she only held on tighter. “Josiah, I am worried about you. Please talk to me.”

He sighed against her embrace. “What difference would it make? You wouldn’t believe me.”

She led him to the living room; he sat in the recliner, leaning forward and his arms resting on his knees. She took a position opposite him on the coffee table and waited patiently. After several minutes he still hadn’t spoken.

“Please, hon.” Sara murmured. “I am scared, for you… for us.”

Josiah spoke softly, choosing each word with care. “I–I know this sounds crazy. Sh-she is not what you think she is. There is something… something evil in her.”

Sara sat listening to all the things Josiah had experienced since the girl had arrived in their home. Subtle things at first, things he could brush off or find a logical explanation for until one day, he couldn’t. He told her about the nightmares, the pictures. He told her about the looks Mary Katherine reserved for only him, looks Sara didn’t seem to notice. He told her about the wood carvings in the dollhouse. Sara listened intently for over an hour as Josiah poured his heart out.

 “I bet my life she has something to do with our parents.” He added.

 “W–We can get you help.” She stammered. “W–We could go to a doctor tomorrow.We can fix this–”

He pulled his hands away from hers instantly. “You don’t believe me. You think I’m crazy.”

Sara tried to calm him. She told him she loved him and only had the best of intentions. It all fell on deaf ears. 

“Either she goes, or I do,” Josiah said. “Decide.”

Sara burst into tears as Josiah left the room. Mary Katherine, who had been listening intently at the top of the stairs, darted back to her room after hearing the approaching footsteps.

***

Sara blinked. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying most of the night. She slept fitfully. She squinted at the alarm clock on the side table. 6:06 am, June 9th. Suddenly, she saw Mary Katherine, standing at the end of the bed. 

“I had to do it, Mommy.” 

“Had to do what, Sweetheart?” She asked, yawning.

She raised a red arm and pointed next to Sara. 

The walls above the bed head had erratic smears of crimson, still wet. A motionless body lay next to her. Josiah’s head was a mass of brown hair, blood and crushed bone. Mary Katherine raised a bloody axe and rested it on her right shoulder.

“He can’t bother us anymore.” Mary Katherine announced, satisfied with herself. Sara screamed and collapsed onto her husband’s lifeless body, desperately trying to put the pieces of his head back together. “He threatened to leave you, Mommy, and he would have taken my brother with him.”

Sara glanced back at Mary Katherine, tears filling her eyes almost to the point of blindness. “Wh–What are you t–talking about?”

“Silly, Mommy.” Mary Katherine said, wiping the blood from the blade onto her dress. “You are pregnant; at least eight weeks.”

“I–I… that’s not possible.”

“I can hear the heartbeat, Mommy.” Mary Katherine continued. “It will be a boy.”

Sara felt an unexpected flutter of butterfly wings against her abdominal wall. She sat up a little and placed her hand on her tummy.

“Neat, huh?” Mary Katherine said. “You felt that, right?” 

The little girl leant the axe against the wall by the bedroom door and casually walked toward her mother. Sara scrambled backwards, slipping off the bed. The little girl changed direction but kept coming toward her, unperturbed. 

“St–Stay away from me!”

“Mommy, you really should listen. Bad things happen to people who don’t listen.” 

“Don’t come any closer!” Sara said, backing up against the far wall. She glanced out the window, wondering if falling to the ground below would break her ankles.

“It would be a mistake to try that.” Mary Katherine said. “My grandparents were naughty too. They wouldn’t listen. They tried to run away. They wanted to convince you and Daddy to give up on me when they were at a safe distance. I put a stop to that, too.”

She kept walking towards Sara, her hands awash in still moist blood. “And I know Daddy tried to warn you about me and well,” she pouted while gesturing with a finger horizontally across her neck, “you know how that ended.”

“We can be a family now, Mommy.” Mary Katherine said, reaching out toward Sara with both arms.

“Get away from me!” Sara screamed hysterically, rushing past Mary Katherine. She slipped over in a sticky puddle on the floorboards. She got to her blood covered feet, shaking. Fresh blood was all over her. Without thinking, she ran straight past the axe and, made her way down the stairs as quick as she could, gripping onto the handrail for support. Her feet slipping against the bloody steps as she descended.

She heard the scraping of the axe against the timber floors coming from somewhere behind her. On her way through the living room, she shuffled her feet across the rug to remove the blood and continued toward Josiah’s office. She knew he kept guns in his safe. 

“Fuck!” She cried, exasperated. Once upon a time, she was thankful that Josiah always kept his firearms securely locked away. She searched everywhere in the office for the keys but came up empty. 

She spun in frantic circles trying to remember where her husband kept the keys. Think… think… think…  

She crept to the doorway of the office and peeked out. The living room was eerily quiet. Plucking up the courage she darted across the room and tiptoed up the stairs, sucking in a breath when the second top step creaked. She silently moved along the right wall, trembling with each step. Upon casting a quick look into her room and not seeing Mary Katherine, she hopped over the dark red puddle and fumbled anxiously through the drawer. The sounds of jingling keys came from directly behind her. 

“You’re not looking for these, are you?” Mary Katherine asked, cocking her head to the side while jingling the keys.

Sara shrieked and fled back toward the ground level. She didn’t glance behind her as she ran through the house, finding herself in the cellar with nowhere else to run. She could hear footsteps on the floorboards coming from somewhere above her. She put two hands over her mouth to stifle her loud breathing.

Her only escape was the exterior cellar door, chained and bolted from the inside. She grabbed the closest heavy object to her left and struck the chain with it. The trivet toppled over resulting in a loud clang. Her efforts were futile; the chain was thick, solid steel. The interior door to the cellar creaked open; she hid behind a brick pillar, still gripping tightly onto the ornate charcoal sad iron. 

“I know you’re down there, Mommy.”

Sara kept quiet and still. She heard Mary Katherine’s feet shuffling along the dirt. Sara suddenly lost balance but caught herself at the last moment; a nearby wrought-iron carriage wheel toppled against another; sounds of collapsing metal things echoed around the room. Mary Katherine turned her head to the left and smiled jubilantly. 

Sara suddenly appeared from behind the brick wall and launched herself at the child, screaming with her antique weapon raised above her head. She came down hard against her, knocking her to the ground. Sara sat over the girl; the iron came down again and again as Sara let loose a deranged war cry. She didn’t stop until she could no longer see blonde hair or piercing blue eyes staring back at her.

***

Blue and red lights flashed outside the Moore residence. A few locals gathered outside the yellow tape surrounding the property, talking in hushed tones to one another.

A young officer followed the sergeant into the cellar. The sergeant stood over a small corpse; at first sight, his young colleague lurched to the side and vomited.

“Clean yourself up, officer.” The young man left the room still retching. 

“Deputy!” The sergeant called towards the stairs, “We need the forensic team in here. Get them on the blower, would you?”

“Right away, sir.”

Another officer appeared at the top of the cellar steps. “Sarge, you need to see this.” The sergeant shook his head, forlornly as he followed the officer to the top level.

“Another cadaver, sir. White adult male. No idea on the age. Someone made sure he wasn’t recognizable.”

The Sergeant pulled on some rubber gloves and inspected the body more closely. There wasn’t a lot to go by. “Forensics should be on their way soon. Make sure they comb this room too.”

“There is another body, sir?”

‘n six. Same M.O. Worse ‘n this guy, though.”

“That’s not all, Sarge.”

“Show me.” 

The officer led the sergeant to a little girl’s room. “At first I couldn’t see anything out of place, but then I noticed something weird.”

The sergeant followed the officer toward an antique dollhouse. They both crouched in front, studying it carefully. Engraved in the wood were several names with a line through each one; Paul, Arthur, Vera, Florence and Josiah. 

“Good eye,” Sergeant Baker said. “Have the forensic take photos and add it to evidence.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

After several hours, they finally finished combing the crime scene; the crowd of onlookers outside eventually dispersed.

The coroner had collected the bodies for autopsy. Officers had bagged and tagged several items as evidence; a sad iron from the cellar and an axe found lying next to the young female cadaver. Strangely, no clear prints were found on either of the items.

A local found Sara days later in bloodied, tattered clothes, rambling incoherently. Her skin was tight against her bones, her eyes sunken and dull.

“She killed them all… she will get me… don’t let her get me…”

“Who?” The Officer called to the scene asked.

“The girl… Sh-she killed them all… possessed… you have to stop it…”

Another officer arrived; he was the Sergeant at the crime scene just days earlier. “Trust nothing this bitch says.” He said to his colleague. “Carved ‘em up real good, she did. Beat the young girl’s head in with one of those heavy, antique irons. Sad irons, they’re called. Sad, indeed. The woman deserves no pity.”

They cuffed her and dragged her to her feet, all while she was still muttering. They read her Miranda rights as the Sergeant forcibly manhandled her into the back of the police wagon. With siren wailing, they drove her to the local hospital. A nurse was waiting by the automated doors to enrol the new patient. The older officer exited the vehicle and dragged Sara out by the cuffs. She didn’t struggle; she felt she would be safe in the hospital, in the psych ward under constant observation.

“Come, dear.” Nurse Winifred said to Sara. “Let’s get you showered and some food in your belly.”

“Don’t let her get me…”

“No one will get you here, sweetheart.” Nurse Winifred soothed. “You’re safe here.”

“It’s not her safety I’m worried about,” one officer said to another as they returned to the car.


© Copyright 2019 H D Cooper. All rights reserved.

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