Hart

Hart

A Story by Treo LeGigeo
"

History doesn't always stay past.

"

It's late afternoon when Mara pulls up to the house. It's a great looming thing, dark, imposing against the grey sky. Majestic, but just a little out of place in this small town.


She parks along the curb, grabbing her clipboard from the back seat before stepping out and flipping the lock. There's a woman already standing on the lawn, dark haired tied back from her plain suit.


"Mara Derwood," she says, walking up to introduce herself. "I'm your consultant."


"Elisa McFarlow, town's historical preservation head." Her handshake is firm, and her smile warm. Mara smiles back.


"Shall we?"


They make their way across the monstrous lawn, the sun sitting low and orange on the horizon. The grass is pruned short, neat, the entire garden in perfect condition.


"Kids must have loved it here," Mara mutters idly as they pass a colourful bed of flowers.


"Haven't they told what Dove House was built for?" Elisa replies, flashing a glance over.


"I thought it was a children's home," Mara says, frowning.


Elisa purses her lips. "Well, yes."


Major Job Dove was one of the best known and longest running mayors of the small town of South Hart, in office for almost fifteen years before his death and one of the only who never started a family. He commissioned the building of the house in his name, a home indeed, for children. A sanctuary.


In early 1830s, a plague swept through South Hart, men and woman dying by the hordes and left out on the street to be plucked at by rats while people were too afraid to leave their homes to collect them. And when it finally passed, the mark hadn't left, for then the midwives of the town found themselves called to women who'd survived their own sickness, or widowed by that of their husbands'.


The children of the plague were horrid forms, with twisted limbs, scabby skin. Babes who shrieked and screeched, who couldn't crawl, who had to be fed through their gaping lips. And who were born into the very families already too fractured for such a burden.


So in 1839, Mayor Dove ordered a home built for these pitiful creatures. A place where they could be cared for, taught together. A house in which they could hide themselves from the prying eyes of the cold world.


But it was only four years later that one of the older children, mentally disturbed, they said, grew into increasing bouts of violence and destruction. No one knew where exactly the fire started. The others were fortunately on one of their rare outings at the time, but it took his life, all those of the staff, and also that of the mayor himself who was on one of his many visits to the centre.


After that, the house stood empty. The children were taken in by whichever families could afford, dressed up and cared for there. None of them have children of their own. By the time the house finally completed its long road to restoration, it was no longer needed.


Upgrades continued, years went by, but with that history it never could find permanent use. The council retained ownership, kept it as part of the town's heritage, for it was one of South Hart's greater constructions. It was leased out some brief periods for various functions, but those occasions grew fewer and more far between until it was more preservation for the sake of preservation.


Then, it just became too expensive. The previous year, the church had sustained significant damage in one of the frequent storm periods that the region saw, and the congregation was only just struggling on. The problem was with the foundations, poor construction, and nothing short of a full rebuild would really solve the problem. And there was also the fact that people had lamented for decades over the poor location, and the insufficient land. South Hart had been a religious settlement first, that faith had changed over time but the church was still very much at the town's heart. With such complications, and such an obvious new placement, the council found it rather pointless to continue to keep an empty house.


And that was when Mara's company had been called from the nearest city, and she'd been sent in for assessment.


"I'll have to see," Mara says after Elisa finishes speaking. "I suppose you'd like to keep some of the house, at least, the lower floor if nothing else?"


"Oh if possible, of course. It has a small chapel room already, maybe that could be integrated into the new church?"


"Perhaps." They've paused over the grass as they spoke, and Mara begins to walk again, stepping up onto the wooden porch. "Does this disappoint you? Getting rid of such a part of the town's history like this?"


"Not too much, really," Elisa replies as she reaches into her pocket to pull out a ring of keys. "Time moves on, things have to change someday. If we really want to remember the past, seems not bad an idea to develop the house into something we actually use. This job's more of a tradition, anyway, the McFarlows have taken this post for generations."


"Tradition, eh?" Mara says with a small grin, falling in step. "Lucky me, I managed to skip out on mine. My family had some strong ideas about the oldest daughter of each generation, but I turned out to be the only so that let me off the hook."


The house is much longer than it is tall, only two stories but extending out over the ground. The door slips open easily with a quick turn of an old brass key, falling in to the plain empty hallway. Elisa enters without preamble.


"The classrooms are off to the side here," she says, the other woman following her into the first room on the left. "After it became clear that Dove House wasn't really viable as an event space, the rooms were refurnished as they used to be. History tours are run sometimes, and excursions for our school kids."


It's compact, and perfectly square. Eight tables sit lined up facing a plain black chalkboard, a teacher's desk to the side with a thin pointer lying on the top. It's all as if still waiting for the students to shuffle back in. The barest hint of unease creeps into Mara's mind before she shakes it off.


"How many are there?"


"Six, in total. Not all of them always in use, though. There were a few just to separate out the more ...problematic children."


They pass through a few more, all the same, Spartan but complete, waiting. They gradually increase in size the further in they go, the last classroom having five rows of tables. Elisa pauses as they reach the end.


"The common area," she says, opening another door which swings in right in front of them. "The kids played together here, when they weren't in class."


This room is large, with a thick and obviously new rug spread out over the pale wooden floorboards. A few chairs lie scattered around, a soft seat in the corner. Mara takes a perfunctory glance before withdrawing and turning her attention to the second corridor that branches off to the right.


"This way?"


"Ah, yes. Down here's the chapel."


Elisa leads them through, the hallway turning off to a medium-sized room. There's a squat altar at the front, though only a few pews.


"It was for the staff, mainly, we imagine the children must have had religion taught in their classes."


Mara takes a few steps inside, looking over the bare walls. It looks a faithful place, a dedicated place, something acute and intense and consuming in the air. Her eyes fall on a small passage by the altar that leads down and out of sight.


"What's over there?"


"Oh, that goes to the basement," Elisa says. "Designed for storage, I think, but it was sealed off after the fire."


"Isn't there a worry about foundations?"


"Not really. I assume it was inspected during the first repairs, but it's all stone at the bottom."


"Hmm." Mara moves a little closer, peering down the dark staircase before turning back and flipping open her clipboard. "Can you tell me more about the repairs?" She lets out a small tut as she unclips her pencil only to reclip it again. "Oh, and do you have a pencil I can borrow? My lead's broken."


Elisa nods quickly. "Here, just a second." She gropes around her pocket for a few seconds before frowning. "That's funny. I must have dropped it on the way in. Let me just go back," she says before ducking out. Mara stays where she's standing as the tap of feet make their way away.


She turns to the greater room again, looking over the empty seats. Mara prides herself on being a practical woman, but there's something unsettling about the house. It's the same feeling that had clung to her for two months after her father told her a story of a dead man who lived beneath the floor when she was nine years old. Old enough to know it was just a silly story, to know that there was nothing to afraid of, and yet still not being quite able to prevent that tiny fission of fear.


She's meandering up the aisle when she hears it. A soft hum, strange, unnatural. It's barely there, and it's a few moments before she realises it's not just her imagination. It almost pulses, very lightly, intermittent.


Mara spins around, ears straining. The sound seems everywhere, in every direction. She takes two full turns of the room, trying to pinpoint the source. And she's almost got it when Elisa's voice cuts in.


"Hey!"


Mara starts, head flicking around as the woman jogs toward her.


"Here." She holds out a short pencil. "Slipped out on the lawn." Mara doesn't take it.


"Can you hear something?" she asks, voice not entirely level.


"What?"


"Like, a buzz. Just soft."


"It's probably the pipes," Elisa says. "The plumbing's all original, all very old."


Mara frowns. "Doesn't sound like pipes."


"Oh, I'm sure it is. Anyway, why don't we move on." Elisa presses the pencil into Mara's lax hand, then promptly swivels around and walks out once more.


Mara's frown deepens.


It's already getting dark as they move deeper into the house, and Elisa pauses to flick on one of the more recently installed electrical lamps. The pattern of corridors is strange, winding. The one past the chapel moves off to a back door, and to the side is a simple kitchen. Mara wonders if there was any logic in this arrangement of rooms. Perhaps they were too hasty in getting the house up for the children there was no time for a proper design.


The sound of Mara's ringtone pierces the air as she's in the middle of jotting down the renovations Elisa's listing that have taken place since the fire. She holds up a hand apologetically before taking a few steps and putting down her clipboard on the kitchen counter, pressing her phone against her ear.


"Hello?"


"Hello, Ms Derwood?" comes the tinny voice on the end of the line.


"Yes, that's me," Mara replies, cocking a hip, then the other, then beginning to pace the room. There isn't much space to do so.


"This is Sandra, from the South Hart Inn. Your, um, boss I think it was, just called to double check your reservation. Unfortunately, we don't believe we ever had a reservation for you."


Mara sighs. "I was told several times over I would have no trouble with accommodation."


"Did you contact us directly?"


"No, our administrators did," she says, wandering around to the side. "I usually plan it myself, but in this case they assured me they had it under control."


"Well I'm sorry, but it seems that they did not."


She fights to keep the frustration from her voice, raising a hand to swipe through her short brown hair. "In that case, I'll take whatever room you have."


"I'm sorry, but there are no vacancies tonight. Uh, however, we have many long-term residents." Mara listens with half an ear, eyes already rolling, right hand drifting down again. "There are some who don't return every night, I'll be sure to let you know if we have that happens."


"Alright then," Mara begins, before she cuts herself off in a cry.


A sharp stab of pain runs up her arm as her fingertips brush over the top of the lamp on the wall. Squeezing the phone between her cheek and shoulder, she dives over to the sink, flicking on the cold tap and shoving her fingers under the running water.


But then it's clattering to the ground, because it isn't water that flows out. The liquid is thick, oily. It slithers over her skin, and takes a bare few moments before the burning sets in.


Mara draws back with a shout, the fluid searing into her flesh. She digs in her pocket with her other hand for a tissue, a handkerchief, anything, comes up empty then dives forward again to jam her hand against the counter, smearing the vile oil over the rough wood.


"Mara? Are you alright?"


"The lamp," she pants, "it burned me. And the tap--"


"Hey, hey." Elisa arms comes around her, stopping the motion of her wrist as she scrapes herself over and over on the ragged bench-top. "Just run it under the water."


"No!" Mara gasps, then freezes, because Elisa is reaching over to where the tap is still on. And clear water is running in a steady stream. "No, it wasn't--it wasn't water, it was--it stung my hand--"


Elisa's brows crease. "The pipes are old, like I said. Maybe it was a hot water burst, or something?" She tries to lead Mara's hand under the stream, but the other woman pulls almost violently out of her grasp. She turns the tap off with a sigh. "Have a handkerchief, at least," she says, fetching a small cloth from her coat and handing it over.


Mara takes it and rubs it gingerly over her fingers. Nothing. No burns, no oil. Elisa bends down to pick up the dropped phone, and Mara hangs it up without even bothering to check the call status.


"I'm not sure about the lamps, though," Elisa continues. "We've never had problems with them before. This one might be faulty."


Mara ignores her as she begins examining around the base of the lamp. "Maybe it was the long drive," she says softly.


Elisa turns back to her. "Was the call important?"


Mara gives a wry grimace. "That was the inn, turns out I don't have a room. Not sure what I'll do."


"The inn? Oh God, don't tell me you booked with Sandra? She's hopeless, only working there because the manager took a fancy to her."


She drops her head.


"You know what," Elisa says with a smile. "I have a pretty decent spare room at my apartment. You can stay with me, get a good night's sleep. There's a great diner nearby which closes in an hour, how we keep going tomorrow and go get some food?"


Mara just nods and tucks the handkerchief away, letting Elisa lead her out by the arm. Perhaps it's just the history and the tiredness getting to her.


Her hand still hurts.



* * *



The diner is a little stuffy, but with nice touch of homeliness. It also serves excellent risotto.


Mara finds herself wondering a little as she watches Elisa chat with the staff and other patrons, familiar, all like old friends. She'd never known what it was like to live in a place where everyone knew everyone else. She supposed it must have shown.


"Ah, you that consultant they sent?" the waiter says not unkindly as he clears off their table. Mara nods. "Piece of work, that Dove House is. You heard the stories, eh?"


"Stories?"


The waiter tuts and sits himself down in the seat that Elisa vacated to settle the bill. "His name was Cole. No last name, an orphan, both parents lost to the wave of death, and one of the first ones too. He was insane, they tried to help, but he wouldn't let them. Because he blamed them for how he was, the monster he was, you see. And then one day, he hid and stayed behind when the others were at church. Then he found an oil lamp, smashed it against the wooden floor, and, well, you know the rest." He shifts, leaning closer, voice dropping. "The fire devoured the nuns that taught them, and the doctors that took care of them, and even the mayor, but it wasn't enough. You know why no one's properly leased the place? Because they get chased off. By his ghost. By his hateful spirit which will never rest."


Mara swallows once, hard.


"Henry, you're not telling her your stories, are you?" Elisa laughs, high-pitched, drawing both people around. Henry sighs softly.


"They're not stories, Elisa, Miss. Dove House is haunted. Everyone knows it."


He turns, walking away with their empty plates, and Elisa picks up her coat from where it lies draped over her chair.


"Don't listen to him, Mara. It's a little town, you know. We always have silly tales."


Mara nods, and forces herself to brush off the hint of uneasiness she could have sworn she heard in Elisa's voice.



* * *



She's on a staircase, winding, long. One hand is gripped tight around a slim, skinny arm, the other wrapped around an oil lamp that flickers coarse yellow light on the stone walls.


"Please, don't make me go, not again."


It's a man's voice--no, a boy's. Shaking with fear, sobbing, begging. Her grip tightens, dragging him along.


"It's for your own good. This will help. This will make you better."


"No, please, no!"


She can hear a rattling coming up from the bottom of the staircase, harsh, like metal on metal. He cries harder as she pulls him down to a firm iron door which is slowly falling open in front of them...



* * *



Mara wakes with her breath choking in her throat.


The moonlight streams in from the side window over the guest bed in Elisa's apartment, the entire room dark, still. She's frozen, tense, every muscle locked where she lies for seconds, minutes, who knows how long, before she slumps back against the sheets.


Just a nightmare. A bad dream.


She doesn't sleep again that night.



* * *



The next day is Thursday, the only day the archives open once a week, and Elisa suggests starting off with the official records before they go back to the house. After a breakfast of toast and egg that Mara barely tastes, she finds herself taking the short walk to the town hall, trying to hide the fatigue that buzzes around the edges of her vision.


"Good night's sleep didn't come, after all?"


Mara shakes her head. "Just stress, I suppose," she says as Elisa lets them in. They let the subject drop.


Elisa pulls up some vague documents about planning and construction, and Mara flicks through records of the fire. They are frustratingly few.


"Awfully sparse, aren't these?"


"Yes," Elisa replies. "The archives were badly damaged in a storm in 1849, and a lot of the more detailed files were lost. But people recorded down again what they could remember, South Hart had a pretty comprehensive collective memory."


"Hmm." Mara glances over some repair notes, a few more recent legal ownership scuffles, then pauses as a photograph falls out of the pile.


It shows a young boy, about ten or eleven, standing in front of what must be Dove House. The lawn is different, as is subtly the shape of the porch. One of his hands is curled in on itself, sticking out from his wrist at an odd angle, and he seems to be leaning all his weight on his right leg. At the bottom, scrawled in faded ink, can just be seen a name.


"Cole," Mara whispers. "The orphan boy."


Elisa pauses to look over her shoulder. "That's funny," she says. "I've never seen that before."


He's unsmiling in the picture, staring dead straight at the camera. It's not a portrait, Mara thinks, it can't be. It looks more like something taken for a record, for remembrance. The letters of his first name are barely visible, but there appears to something else written beside. After several minutes of squinting, Mara gives up trying to decipher it. She waits for a moment that Elisa's turned away, buried in finance books, before slipping it into her pocket. She's not entirely certain why.


The archives unearths less about the house's structural support and material integrity than Mara had hoped for, but she notes down what she can. They grab a few sandwiches for lunch, then walk back to Elisa's place where they pick up Mara's car for the drive back to site.


This time, they go around the back entrance and take it up the stairs straight away to the dorms. Odd to have them meet the ground floor at the back, Mara muses, almost as if trying to keep them away from visitors.


"Most of the staff lived with the children," Elisa narrates. "Some of the teachers were on rotation, but the nurses and the doctors all stayed around." She opens up the first door, revealing a nurse's office. "There were two women who took joint teaching and medical duties, they called them both 'Sister' though we're not sure if they were actual nuns or if the title was just honorary." Mara can barely look into the bare hard chairs and wooden pallet before she turns away. So cold, unfeeling.


"And the rest?"


"Bedrooms along here, and children's rooms down the end."


The rooms are identical, a thin wardrobe against the wall and a narrow bed frame--mattresses removed--on the other side next to a squat bedside table. Even more sparse than the classrooms, if that's possible. A staff common room which vaguely resembles a tea room splits their quarters off from those of the children.


The children's rooms are also similar, barely larger though with any number of extra beds crammed in. The numbers seem to be random, three in one room, five in the next two, only two in the following, and so on. Mara wonders if it's more restoration, or if they were really like that in the time. If it's the former, then they've done a good job.


Only the very last room at the end is a single, the same size as the others, which may be why it looks so barren and empty.


"Excuse me," Elisa says, nudging open a door on the opposite side into a white-tiled bathroom. She pulls out a small bottle out of her coat. "Didn't get a chance to fill this up earlier," she says, stepping in and pulling it shut. Mara hears running water, then the lock clicks and everything falls silent. And it's not right.


It's the house. There's something wrong, and she's felt it since the beginning. For a moment Mara doesn't move, then the rattling starts. Uneven, metallic, and coming straight from the closet in the single room.


Mara's hand shakes as she takes a single step closer, then another. It's getting louder, more frantic. She reaches forward, grasps the handle, and pulls the door open.


Two black eyes stare out at her, in a warped face dripping gore. The creature's body is disfigured almost to the point of non-recognition, chunks of blackened flesh hanging off it in mounds. Torn lips pull back in a hideous parody of a smile as it holds out a mutilated arm towards her.


Mara can't scream, can't speak. It's getting closer, close enough that she can taste the stench of decay on the back of her tongue, before she breaks free and flings her body out through the corridor, throwing her weight against the bathroom door, pounding, slamming the wood with her fists.


She falls right through onto the floor when it opens.


"Mara!" Elisa ducks down, cradling her where she lies. She can only sob.


"Oh God, there's something--something in there. I have to get out, I have to get out of this house.


"Shh," Elisa whispers, brushing a few strands of hair from her face. "Calm down. What is it?"


"It's, it's the--" she forces herself to look, turn back, fingers wrapping around Elisa's in a bruising grip.


There's nothing. Of course.


Elisa stands, taking Mara with her, flushing the toilet and grabbing her full bottle from where it sits on the sink. She walks over and sets it down on the bedside table, closing the bare wardrobe before sitting them both down on the bed frame.


"I'm sorry," she says, wrapping the shaking woman in a tight embrace. "I didn't realise--we didn't think--not you."


"What do you mean?" Mara's voice hardens, looking up. Elisa bites her lip. "That man, Henry, his stories weren't just stories then."


Elisa sighs. "There were reports of supposed 'supernatural activity' since the beginning, but it wasn't taken seriously for decades. Then people started refusing to hire no matter how low the council set the cost, and they tried a different approach. The place was marketed as a haunted house for almost a year but that had next to no success. We thought, Mara, we really thought that whatever ...presence was here, it didn't respond to non-locals."


Mara takes a few, long breaths. "So it's true."


"I don't know. Reports stopped when the house was left empty, obviously, but South Hart School runs trips every year and they've never had trouble. Some people say that's disproof, and others, well." Elisa pauses. "Others think it just says something about the ghost, and children."


"And you?"


Elisa pulls back to look Mara in the eye. "There's something here, Mara," she says softly. "I'm so sorry, I should never have brought you." She picks up her bottle, unscrewing the lid and holding it up to Mara's lips. "I can speak to the council. Let's go."


Mara nods, half-hysterically, gulping down the water. She doesn't let loose her grip on Elisa's hand as they hasten up, and out.


They're barely into the corridor before she starts stumbling.


They're not even at the stairs when darkness flashes across her vision, and she feels her legs give out.



* * *



She's kneeling on hard, wooden floors, palms pressed together. Fast, whispered words tumble from her lips, Latin.


She's praying, for the sins of those she'd dedicated her life to fixing, and for forgiveness for her failure. She can hear the sounds, always the sounds, buzzing up from beneath the floor, she's used to them now.


But today is different, worse. She blocks it all out, focusing on her prayer. Let me help them, let me make it right, let the others be greater than this one lost.


Then there's another sound breaking into her concentration, a soft crackling, getting louder, but she ignores that too. Ignores it until the she feels her nose twitching at the tang in the air, until her eyes snap open, and its too late. She turns, slowly, around, until she's staring straight down the basement passage...



* * *



Mara comes to in the chapel. She'd know where she was even without the vestiges of her dream, vision, whatever it was, still hanging before her eyes. It's in the feel, of the floor beneath her back, and the aura in the air.


It's night, with only darkness and moon through the few high windows. She gropes around for a wall, then again for the switch to the lamp. It casts the room in an eerie silver light.


Elisa lies several pews down, sprawled, still unconscious. Mara begins to walk towards her, then stops.


The hum is back, and this time she can tell where it's coming from. It's coming from beneath the floor.


The passages morphs quickly into a staircase, silent, without a single creak. The small rectangle of light grows fainter, then out of sight, as she gradually twists downward. She isn't sure how long it is before the ground flattens out once more, and she finds herself at the iron door to the basement. It's open.


One step into pitch darkness, then another. Mara's heart almost stops when her foot catches on something, leaping to the side to shake it off and bruising her hip on a metal protrusion from the floor. There's a series of chinks as the offender is kicked away. A chain.


She feels around at the surface that rises waist-height before her, breath catching as her hands descend onto something light and filmy. She brings them up to her face.


It's ash. But not wood, it's too fine, oily.


Then she realises what it is and finally, she screams.




She sees a boy, a baby, ugly, stunted and mangled. Son of a woman of the street and ...and the newly elected mayor. It was an accident, a reminder of a moment of weakness, and they hadn't even known of the plague then, or what form such children took.


He had to take him in after the mother died in childbirth, as a father he had that duty. Then the people started to fall, choking the streets with lifeless bodies and stench of death. The Devil's work, surely, which made these children the Devil's children. And this boy--Cole, they named him--his own son, was the first, which meant that he was their foremost.


The numbers of these cursed babes grew, the house was built, and the abominations set inside with men and women who agreed with their mayor. There, they helped them, purged them. It wasn't that he was trying to hide, it was that no one asked. Much easier to say orphan, no mother, no father, no one.


The basement, turned into a place of sanctity. Children strapped down, letters carved into their flesh, seared with oil that burned. When they screamed too loudly they were gagged with rags, muffling the cries to an infernal hum that permeated the house, broken up by their desperate gasps and heaves. And their foremost, forced to watch even as he thrashed against the chain that held him until nearly deafened by its clank. They never left the house, except to make the short trek to church on Sundays, limps, blood, injury hidden with which they'd already been born.


Mayor Dove visited, of course, as much as he could. He always said the same thing. "I love you, son. This will be good, this will make you better." Always I love you.


Cole was the oldest, and the others came to him. The little ones, asking for stories in the room they had to themselves, running to his bed in the only unshared room after a nightmare. They called him brother, and in a way they were all siblings, of that horrific sickness, but not of the Devil. Because it wasn't a curse, he knew. The others were too scared, but he had ten years with his father before they ever built up this horrid place. He fought, he didn't hold back, and every time the man came he knew he wasn't making it better.


Months passed, years. Mayor Dove's visits became fewer and fewer. Insane, they said about Cole, beyond repent. And then eventually they decided he was too much. They drugged the water in his bedside one Saturday night, and he woke strapped down to the cold metal table that he'd seen so many of his brothers and sisters laid on before him. The nurses threw oil over his body, drizzled it over his face from the bucket by his side. Then his father came in with the match.


"I love you," he said as he burnt his own son alive. "I love you."


The flames sparked, then rose, and the boy within them screamed and thrashed. But those straps were built for children smaller, weaker than him. He lashed himself out, and then the bucket was spilling, tipping onto the mayor, the line of fire jumping across. The man yelled, high and horrible, and convulsed, stumbling back and through the iron door, onto the stairs.


Something happened, then. It was like a part of him was floating out, away. The boy's skin was alight, smoke choking his lungs, the stench of burnt flesh thick in his throat. But he felt nothing.


And then he heard it, the steady clang of the church bells ringing out over the town, and the last dredges of pain slipped away. Because it was Sunday morning, which meant the others were at service, safe. Safe forever. Because he knew the nurses, the teachers would be in their chapel, they always were after these sorts of times, just up those dry, wooden stairs...




This time, Mara opens her eyes to light.


It's only dim, pale. In it, she can see the basement space. The chains on the floor, the shelves of tools and implements that she doesn't care to examine too closely. And the black shape before her, still wrapped around charred leathers straps and seared bone, form just recognisable.


The unease is gone. So is the fear.


"What happened? Are you alright?" Elisa's voice is panicked as she frantically feels for Mara's temperature, pulse, a portable lamp on the floor beside them. Mara brushes her off.


"Fine," she says. "I'm fine."


"We have to find a way out. Leave this place. It must be us, this--this thing doesn't want us taking down the house. They can do something else about the church, we'll make sure that no one ever touches this place."


"No." Mara sits up, pushing Elisa away. "We'll do it. We'll knock it down, take apart every wood panel and every stone, but not for a church." She pulls herself to her feet and turns to look over the faceless form that lies on the cruel iron. "We'll level it, make it a playground. For children."


"Why?" Elisa breathes, face scrunching. "What for?"


"So they can play with each other," Mara says, "and make friends, and be loved. Be loved, for real."


She slips the photograph of the boy out of her pocket, tilting it so the light falls on its caption. She knows what the second word is now. Dove. Cole Dove. A name neither in officiality or desert. Carefully, she tears a tiny square around it, and throws away the scrap with those four letters away.


She can feel Elisa's confusion in the air, her question, but she doesn't answer. She supposes she'll have to tell her eventually, what she saw, some of it at least. But now, she just reaches forward, placing the picture down on the ash. Cole. Just Cole.


There are some things in this world, she thinks, that are better off left, laid to rest.


"You remember what I said, before," she whispers, "about first-born girls in my family? I didn't tell you what they were because, well, it's a little embarrassing. My family was always rather backward." She turns back to face Elisa. "And what you said, about not responding to non-locals, I think you were right, mostly. It's just me." Mara walks away now, letting the other woman trail behind. "The oldest women in my family, traditionally," she says as she leads them both out of that chamber of misguided faith, that home of twisted love, "were nuns."


It's morning as they step out. In the soft sunlight, the house is utterly calm, benign. At peace.



* * *



Cole is buried two weeks later in a quiet ceremony, in the corner of South Hart's cemetery near the other children to whom he'd given more than his life. That same afternoon, Mara stands in the mayor's office and signs off in one sitting all the new development plans.


It took three battles with the town council before they agreed to Mara's proposal, only receiving the bare minimum of explanation. All things considered, it was less than she had expected. With way she looked, the conviction and that edge of darkness in her voice, Mara has a feeling they knew why even if they didn't really understand.


As pen touches paper for last finalisation, a light breeze tinkles through the room, a soft lilting whisper which draws her around for just a second. If she listens carefully enough, it's almost like the joyous sound of children's laughter.

© 2013 Treo LeGigeo


Author's Note

Treo LeGigeo
An experiment in this genre. Liked this idea, but this was supposed to be just a quick little thing to play with before I work on finishing my novella, didn't expect it to get so long. Planned out the plot pretty solidly but rushed myself a bit to get the words out, still thinking over the final product.

Feedback would be great, since I rather enjoy horror/mystery and probably will flesh out something longer and better sometime.

My Review

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Reviews

Absolutely impeccable, I caught a minuscule amount of mistypes here there, but nothing that absolutely hindered your work. I'm just... that was absolutely fantastic. I have nothing to critique except to shower you with a "well done" and hand you a pix elated star. (Unfortunately I am bereft of that, but nevermind!) Anywho, I've stumbled upon a website called Creepypasta that you may have heard before, and I personally think your work in this genre might greatly benefit from posting this or any other of your works on. Your story sent a literal chill down my spine, and I'm currently reading through various works for a contest that you entered this in. I'll let you know soon about the results, and thanks for the wonderful write!

Posted 6 Years Ago


nice flow - chilling - consistent story telling - great imagination! would like to see more dialogue. Two different spellings of Mara Mera - or is that dialect. anyway. Good work.

Posted 6 Years Ago


Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

Glad you liked!

Er, and that would be a typo. Thanks for pointing it out.
Wow...this was amazing...

Posted 6 Years Ago


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all I can say is wow. had me hooked from the introduction of Dove House

Posted 6 Years Ago


Extreme! I could feel the chill. It's very well planned out, and above all...a piece of darn good writing. Extremely scary....and the end was super-brilliant, but I was half-expecting it. You do that a lot.

Posted 6 Years Ago


SOUL LESS

6 Years Ago

Welcome...deleted by the poster? :P
Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

Oh, I realised my first comment had a typo so I deleted and posted again. Heh.
SOUL LESS

6 Years Ago

Oh I see...:) I was thinking...all sorts of things ;)
Great story. Very detailed and and good imagery. I also love the athmosphere it presented through the whole plot. You deserves two thumbs up on this story.

Posted 6 Years Ago


great job :-)

Posted 6 Years Ago


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JLe
I liked this, although I'm wondering if reading it in the middle of the night was really such a bright idea (hello, nightmares). It sort of reminded me of the horror movie The Orphanage. Good story, nicely written. Not too shabby for an experiment...

Posted 6 Years Ago


Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

Well, if it makes you feel better, I kind of freaked myself out writing it and didn't want to brush .. read more
JLe

6 Years Ago

That's surely a sign that you're a good horror writer. I bet Stephen King scares himself all the tim.. read more
I think your experiment worked. This is a great horro/mystery story. I think the end is good, but it would be interesting to read an alternate ending! Good Job.

Posted 6 Years Ago


Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

Alternate ending, eh? Anything you had in mind?
Hester Vane

6 Years Ago

Well no not really, but as you said in your authors notes you were thinking over the ending i though.. read more
Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

Oh, I didn't mean the ending specifically, think over all of it.

Though I did originall.. read more
THis is awfully long for something quick. But it's a good story. There was horror and curelty, but also justice. The scenes are written well, and the dialogue is realistic.It could be tightened up a little though. For instance, there isn't any reason for Elisa to go and get a pencil. It breaks the pace--and besides wouldn't Mara be carrying a pencil?

Posted 6 Years Ago


Treo LeGigeo

6 Years Ago

I literally wrote 4,000 words of this last night ...I have a strange definition of quick, heh.
.. read more

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829 Views
10 Reviews
Shelved in 4 Libraries
Added on November 13, 2012
Last Updated on June 14, 2013
Tags: religion, plague, ghost, haunted house

Author

Treo LeGigeo
Treo LeGigeo

Sydney, NSW, Australia



About
I'm from Australia, so some people may find that I spell things differently. I love writing and have had a couple of publications of short stories and novellas under a pseudonym. I started .. more..

Writing

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