It was four days before Jill heard from Paul again. Ninety-six hours of endless torment, as she waited for the axe to fall. Toby settled into his old routine as though nothing had happened, but the happiness at his return was overshadowed by the certain knowledge there was a price to be paid. Her family returned to the farmhouse once news reached them the child was safe, and she was glad of their presence. They proved a godsend at keeping the reporters at bay and shielded her from the horror unfolding on the TV and in the newspapers. The outcry at the discovery of the children’s bodies at the cottage became national news, and there was great speculation once the remains of the men were recovered from the cellar. Luckily, the police made no mention of the events when they questioned Toby, and Tom’s explanation of how he found him wandering on the road was grudgingly accepted. While the investigating officers may have had doubts of the circumstances surrounding the child’s recovery, they did not push the matter further, and Toby’s wide-eyed explanation about the men in the masks was hard to dismiss as his imagination. Anyway, they were more intent on finding those responsible. The fact she had forced her son to lie about his abduction left Jill with a gnawing pain in her gut, but it was for the best, in the long run. At least she fooled herself into believing this was the case. Once the questioning was out of the way, the police insisted Toby be taken to hospital for examination, but Jill refused because he’d had enough upset. So, they settled instead for a visit from her employer Dr Williams, who confirmed the boy was physically unharmed, if a little dehydrated.
Joe returned to his new life and she was glad to see him go. It pained her someone who had once meant so much to her, now failed to draw even the slightest response from her aching heart.
The sound of laughter roused her from her musing, and she smiled as Toby tumbled through the kitchen door, closely followed by Bess and her pups. They refused to leave his side since his return, and despite her mother’s sniffs of disapproval and muttered admonishment about the dogs’ presence in the bedrooms as unhygienic, Jill allowed things to return to normal. The pups now slept on Toby’s bed and were a comfort when he woke crying in the night. She knew it would be many years before her son recovered from his ordeal, if ever, and she would not deny him the company of the pups. Bess resumed her place beside Jill’s bed. On the odd time when she did manage to sleep, it was only for a few minutes during the day, and on the rare occasion when the house was quiet. At night she stayed alert, waiting for what must come next. She knew she was safe during the day, as the Wraith needed the night, and it would be during the hours of darkness, while everyone slept, that she would come for her.
“Why don’t you have a lie down?” Her mother rubbed her arm. “You’re exhausted and we’ll keep a careful eye on Toby.”
“Thanks, Mam, but I’m too wound up to sleep.”
“Well, just lie on the bed and close your eyes,” she could see the worry etched in her mother’s face. “You might manage to drop off.”
“Okay,” she smiled, just to please her. “I’ll try.”
“Good girl, I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
Using the banister, Jill managed to drag herself up the stairs. Once at the top, she looked longingly into her bedroom, but decided trying to sleep was a lost cause. Allowing her eyes to stray to the door that led to the attic, her stomach lurched at the realisation she had not returned there since the night she had summoned the Wraith. Looking around, making sure no one was about, she turned the handle and edged the door open just enough to allow her to slip inside. As she tip-toed up the wooden stairs, the familiar scent of the attic was overwhelming, and she brought her hand to her mouth to hold back her cry. It smelled as it did on the first day she had come there, of dust and mould, of dry paper and trapped heat. But that was before, in a time when her only pain was that of losing Joe. She’d lived a million lifetimes since then, or so it seemed. Now she was returning to the place that was once her salvation and was now the cause of her downfall. Picking up the lighter, she lifted the glass dome of the lamp and lit the wick. All traces of her grandmother’s footprints were obliterated by her own comings and goings and Jill’s heart ached at their loss. As she moved further into the gloom, she took note of things that had become familiar to her over the past weeks. She was no longer startled by the large mirror or the old sheet that shrouded it. There were no secrets, unexplored things to discover within the trunks. All the excitement she once felt belonged to another time, when she was innocent, her mind untarnished by the evil in the world and her soul unstained.
The triangle of Solomon lay across the lid of one of the chests and she picked it up. Its side were still stained with traces of earth from the graveyard. If you’re going to come for me, do it now, her mind screamed, I can’t bear the waiting. But there was no reply to her demand and nothing to break the silence of the attic. Sinking down on the floor, she pulled the black cloak from the chest and wrapped it around her shoulders. While she was prepared to do anything, face any danger to recover her child, the realisation of paying for her deeds seemed far off and she half expected something would happen to save her. Unlike Toby, she had no Superman to fly to her aid. The thing that frightened her the most was leaving her child. The thought of death terrified her but being parted from the one person she loved more than life was more painful still. For the first time in days she allowed the tears to fall.
“Ah, there you are, girl.”
She was so intent on her suffering; she had not heard the footsteps approach.
“Ah, now,” her father eased his way down beside her and brushed her face with his hand. “Why all the tears?”
“I’m okay, Dad, really,” she tried to smile.
“Of course, you’re not okay, how could you be, after all you’ve been through?” He placed an arm around her shoulders.
“It’s not that,” she left the words hang in the air, unsure of his reaction, if she told him the truth.
“Well, what is it then?”
He waited as the silence settled all around them.
“Did you not wonder at Toby’s sudden reappearance?” She asked.
“I suppose I did,” he said. “But I put it down to prayer, though I take it now that God had nothing to do with it?”
“No, it was not His doing, though the prayers can’t have hurt,” she smiled up at him and noticed how old he had become.
She never imagined either of her parents growing old or feeble. They always seemed so strong, immortal, and the realisation they would now be all her son had, added to her terror. Joe would step in and offer to help once she was gone, but any attempt he made at being a father would be half-hearted, and Toby would rely solely on his grandparents.
“Oh, Dad,” she started to cry again. “What am I going to do?”
“Well, if you tell me what the problem is, I might be able to help.”
“No one can help me now,” she said, wiping her eyes with the material from the cloak. “I’m beyond all human aid. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but God help me it’s true.”
“Ah, come on now,” his grip tightened on her shoulders. “It can’t be that bad.”
“If I tell you, will you promise not to judge me?”
“Have I ever?”
“No,” she had to agree with this. Her father had always been her champion. The one she could rely on to side with her when her mother’s wrath was great.
As she recounted the tale about the Wraith, Jill pointed out the various items she used to summon it, the books, the triangle, and the cloak. She was afraid to look at him as she spoke; sure, she would see the horror at what she had done reflected in his eyes.
“Well, that’s it,” she said, once she had finished. “I know it sounds fantastic, but every word is true, and I will have to pay for what I’ve done.”
When she looked at him from the corner of her eye, she was surprised to find he had turned away. At first, she imagined he was so ashamed of her actions he could not bear to look at her. Then she saw the silver line of a tear as it trailed down his cheek.
“Dad,” she touched his arm. “I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” he fiddled in his trouser pocket for a handkerchief. The sound of his nose blowing echoed like thunder in the quiet of the attic. “I suppose any mother would have done what you did.”
He wiped his eyes before replacing the handkerchief. Jill missed the weight of his arm on her shoulders and thought it strange she was once more reduced to a child in the presence of her father.
“There’s something much worse, I’m afraid,” she bit at her bottom lip as she tried to find the words to explain why he was about to lose his only child.
She knew the horror she felt when she thought she might lose Toby, and it pained her now to break the news of her imminent death to her father.
He never once interrupted as she continued her tale and the only outward sign, he gave of his distress was a constant picking at the pile of his corduroy trousers. When he spoke, his voice choked with fear.
“And is there no reasoning with this thing, this Wraith?”
“I don’t think so,” Jill said. “She committed suicide, so the balance of her mind was disturbed even before she died. I made a terrible mistake in choosing her, but I thought as a mother she would understand why I did what I did. I was wrong, in more ways than one and now I must pay the price.”
“Is she still around,” he turned away from his picking and looked at his daughter.
“I haven’t seen her since the night we found Toby,” Jill said. “But there’s no doubt she’s around somewhere. I have to cast another spell you see, to release her and God help me, Dad, but I’m terrified of going back to that graveyard.”
“Well, girl,” he took her hand in his. “You’ll have to go back. I’m sorry,” he saw her look of dismay. “But the poor, old thing is trapped. Trapped and very tormented, if what you say is true, and in a state of limbo. Sure, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone, would you now?”
“You’re right,” Her father’s words hit home.
He was right. The Wraith, Marie, deserved to be set free and it fell to her to do it.
“You’re right, Dad,” Jill said, again “I’ll go tonight and finish the spell. God help me after that. Will you promise me one thing?” She gazed into her father’s eyes.
“Don’t let Mam screw up Toby’s life.”
He was puzzled by this.
“You realise you’re all he’ll have once I’m gone, don’t you?”
“I never thought about it, but God is good. Maybe it won’t come to that.”
“You’ll have to face it, Dad; it will come to that. The Wraith isn’t human, it can’t be reasoned with.”
They sat for a few moments surrounded by the silence.
“I wish you’d never come to this place,” her father said.
“I know, Dad, I’ve thought that since the day Toby went missing.”
“If Joe could have kept it in his pants, none of this might have happened.”
“Dad!” She laughed at the coarseness of his words.
Never had she heard her father speak in such a way. She had never even heard him utter a swear word and that alone was some achievement considering what he had to put up with.
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” He was off on a tirade. “If you waited until you were married to have a child, things might have been different.”
Christ, Jill thought, here we go. She knew he was only echoing her mother’s words and fear and anger made him say the things he did. There was no doubt in her mind he loved his grandson, but she was also aware any joy he felt on the news of her pregnancy, was dampened by the fact she was unmarried.
“Dad, these are different times,” she explained. “No one frowns when someone has a child out of wedlock.”
“That well may be,” he fumbled in his pocket once again to retrieve the sail-sized handkerchief. “But in my day…”
“I know Dad,” Jill interrupted. “In your day, everyone got married and stayed together, no matter how miserable they were. It’s the mantra of your generation; you made your bed so lie in it. Times have changed,” she lowered her tone, as the last thing she needed was another argument.
“They may very well,” he blustered. “But it’s not for the better.”
She was saved the trouble of answering him, by the sound of her mother’s voice echoing up the stairs.