The earth beneath the grave moved. There were many who watched from the inky blackness in the wood and willed the dead thing on. Long fingers, blackened by fire, emerged, and the arms that followed waved in the still air, as they felt for something to catch on to. There was nothing, but the slight night wind cooling the scorched bones. The fingers twisted into claws that gripped the grass on either side of the grave and hauled the body up. A head appeared, the hair hanging on the skull was still dark, but sparse. A face, a burnt, human face, appeared between the thin tendrils. Fat worms fell from its hollow eyes and it drew back its lips and snarled hideously. The watchers shied back in horror. This was not the Annie they had expected. The thing crawling across the grass exulted hatred. Where there was once a need to bring life, there was now a terrible thirst for death.
She made it to the shadows of the trees and hauled herself up against the trunk of one. The very wood seemed to shy from her touch. She saw the watchers; their shadows were easy to pick out in the moonlit woods. They called to her, begging her to be still, to listen to them, but she brushed their pleas aside. Her mind was filled with the need for revenge, and the intense hatred she felt would not be denied.
He was close by. She smelt his scent as strong as ever. There was still the need within him to destroy life, to corrupt the innocent. Her eyes strayed back to the disturbed mound and the scattered earth. Dora was still sleeping and in need of her protection. She knelt beside the grave and threw the earth back into place. Soon it looked as though it had never been disturbed. It was only as she raked it with her fingers, she became aware of her appearance.
“Why?” She cried, looking in horror at the black bones and yellowing pieces of flesh still clinging in places.
“Be still, Annie. Trust us,” the watchers whispered.
“No, never, I was true to you once and you betrayed me.”
“We didn’t betray you. It was not us; this is not your time, Annie. Look around you.”
The moon shone bright enough to light the way. The field, where she would once have sown crops was still the same, if overgrown. She had hoped Pat and Meg would have tended it better. Her cottage was no longer there. In its place there was a great house. Pat was doing well. She smiled through fleshless, bloodless lips. But her joy was short lived, as her senses sought him out. There was nothing. They were all gone. Her sister, Meg and the others were lost to her. The cry issuing from her at their loss was unearthly.
Cora sat up with a start, her heart racing. Something woke her and she held her breath, listening. Perhaps, one of the girls cried out in their sleep? She threw back the covers and hurried from the room. The gallery glowed bright as day; the full moon captured in the stained-glass became part of the tableau. The handle on the children’s door groaned as she turned it. There was not a sound, so she just opened it enough to peep inside. Both her girls were sleeping soundly. She crept back along the gallery, glancing once at the room where Liam slept. Surely, if there had been a sound, it would have woken him. The bedcovers were warm and inviting, and she was worn out from the hours she spent crying. Soon she was asleep, and the house was allowed to settle once more.
Liam was too deep in a drunken sleep to hear anything. Despite having left the window open, he was spared the sound of slow, slouching footsteps on the gravel outside. Oblivious to the crunching of the hands, as they grasped the dried ivy snaking along the front of the house; or the figure that skimmed like a giant, black spider towards his window. He did not even move as it crawled noiselessly over the sill and crouched at the end of his bed.
Outside the voices on the wind called to her, begging her to stop.
The man was hidden from her and she waited until he turned, and she could see him clearly. Annie gasped, at the familiar face. She crept nearer; close enough to smell the alcohol on his breath. He smiled in his sleep and the rage within her burned. She reached out for his throat; her fingers were within inches of his flesh, when…
She drew back and moved towards the window. Below her, bathed in the moonlight, Dora ran backwards and forwards along the drive; Dora with white hair flying and her flowered dress, no longer in tatters, whirling around her.
“Catch me, Annie,” the child laughed, running around the side of the house, and disappearing.
“Dora, wait,” Annie called, as she slipped once more over the sill.
The man in the bed groaned, and turned away from the noise.
Annie looked back at the sleeping figure. There was plenty of time. She would be back for him, but her mind was no longer filled with hate. Instead she felt the love glow inside her, so by the time she had climbed down the ivy, she had become as of old. The life was renewed, and the young woman chasing the fleeting image of her sister, had a cloak of dark, brown hair. The once empty sockets were filled with dancing blue eyes. The lips were red and full, and the skin smooth and white.
She could still hear her sister’s laughter, but when she reached the wood there was, nothing…
“Dora,” she called. “Where are you? Answer me.”
“It was a trick.”
Annie searched among the trees for the source of the voice.
“Your God has tricked you once more,” The Dark One stepped out from the shadows.
“No,” Annie backed away from him. “He would not be so cruel.”
“Come now,” he smiled. “Not even you, after all you have suffered could be so gullible.”
“No,” Annie tore at her hair. “This cannot be. Why,” she screamed towards the sky. “What have I done to offend you?”
“He never listens. Does he, Annie?”
“Leave me be,” she ran among the trees trying to evade him, but he appeared before her time after time.
“I have never lied to you. I promised you rest with the last in his line and I have kept my word.”
She looked up at him.
“Yes, the one who dwells within the house,” he waved towards the building. “He is not your dear cousin Hugh, but his ancestor.”
She walked to the edge of the wood and looked back at the house.
“How long have I slept?”
“I remember nothing, but sadness in all that time.”
“He abandoned you to your faith and did nothing to ease your suffering and the suffering of your family.”
She started to cry again. Her cries echoed on the still air, and from far away lights appeared through the gloom, as people woke to the terrible sound.
This time Liam O Brien woke. He sat befuddled and shook his aching head. What on earth was that sound? He listened for a moment longer, but the agony of the cries spurred him up and out of the room. He had never been a brave man, and he used the excuse he was worried about his wife, to charge into her room. Cora sat in the centre of the bed with Laura and Shelly on either side of her. All three clung together, shivering.
“What’s that noise, Dad?” Shelly turned a tear-stained face towards him.
“It’s probably a vixen,” he shrugged at his wife and walked towards the window.
“A vixen is a lady fox,” he heard Cora explain.
“I don’t think it’s a fox,” Laura said.
“Really, Miss. Know it all. What do you think it is?” Liam could not hide is sarcasm, even from his children.
“Brilliant, if it’s not a fox then it’s something else. That private school is really paying off,” he threw open the wardrobe door and took out his dressing gown. Despite his sniggering remarks, he was shivering.
“I’m frightened, mummy,” Shelly sobbed. “Make it go away.”
“Hush darling,” Cora soothed. “It’s probably the wind in the pipes. These old houses are full of creaks and groans, and the pipes are old and full of holes.”
“We had the pipes replaced,” Liam answered from his place at the window.
Great, Cora thought, thanks a lot.
Laura pushed the covers aside and got up.
“Where are you going?” Her mother tried to pull her back into the bed.
“I’m not afraid anymore,” she walked to the window and peered out into the dark.
Her father snorted in disgust and left her there. He sat on the side of the bed and Cora could not fail to notice the pallor of his skin. If the cries were not so frightening, she would have laughed. Laura stood on her toes and looked across the garden. There was something silhouetted in the trees. It looked like a big cat. She threw open the window. The cries seemed to reverberate off the walls of the room.
“Laura,” her mother struggled from Shelly’s grip and ran towards her.
“Stop, Mam,” the child pushed her away. “I have to help her.”
“Who?” Her mother asked. “Don’t be silly. Close the window.”
Cora turned to her husband for help, but he had dived beneath the covers with Shelly.
But Laura was leaning out on the windowsill.
“Are you hurt, poor thing?” She called into the darkness. “Come inside. Let me help you.”
Annie heard the offer and moved away from the Dark One towards the house. She used her hair to wipe away her tears, as she followed the child’s voice. Laura watched as the bushes in front of the house parted, but she was still unable to see anyone.
“It’s all right. We won’t hurt you.”
Annie could see her now. The white nightgown glowed from the lighted room and the long dark hair flew in the night breeze. Her heart ached as she thought once more of her sisters.
“She is his child,” The Dark One was beside her. “His flesh and blood.”
“She reminds me…” her voice trailed off.
“Of what you lost. You can have it again once he is dead. I can return you to your own time. A year before we met. Your parents alive and well, Think of it, Annie.”
“You can do all that?”
“You know it’s within my power.”
“But he is not Hugh.”
“Does it matter? He is of the same blood.”
“It would be a sin, Annie,” the night breeze whispered. “All would be lost if you surrender to The Darkness.”
For the first time, she heeded the voices.
“He may not be as vile as his ancestor. I think I will wait.”
The Dark One roared in aggravation. The sound made Liam leap from his hiding place and pull his daughter away from the window. Annie saw the fear in his face, as he slammed the window shut. Though his looks reminded her so much of her hated cousin, she could not in all conscious, destroy him without first knowing if he had inherited Hugh’s evil.
No one in the O Brien household slept that night. So, Sunday was very unpleasant for Cora, as the children were overtired and Liam in a worse humour than usual. A couple of times during the day she caught him staring at her stomach, and her heart leapt with worry. Laura refused to accept any of the explanations for the cries they heard. Liam ranted about buying a gun and seeing the foxes off. But Cora and Laura knew this was not the case. The cries were from something other than an animal. Though Cora tried to coax her into saying what she thought they were, her daughter merely shrugged and pretended ignorance.
By late afternoon Liam’s patience was exhausted, and he got ready to leave.
“Will you be home later?” Cora asked, as she watched him throw a change of clothes into a bag.
“No, as a matter of fact I may not be home for some time.”
“As long as it takes to get rid of that,” he jabbed a finger in her stomach.
“You know I won’t do it. It’s against all I believe.”
“Then you choose, your God or your family, because I promise you this. If you insist on going ahead with the pregnancy, I’ll take the girls away from you. Admit it, Cora,” he stopped what he was doing and looked at her. “You’ve always been nervy. A few words in the right ears and I’ll have you committed.”
“You bastard,” she slapped his face. “You rotten, evil bastard.”
He grabbed her hair forcing her down on the bed. One hand gripped her throat squeezing hard.
“All it’ll take is a few days in London. Tell whatever friends you have you are going shopping. It’ll all be over in a couple of hours; understand?”
“Is that what you make your whores do?”
“You think you know so much about me,” he spat. “Well, let me tell you this. They were all, are all, better than you could ever be.”
He released his grip, snatched his bag from the bed and stalked out. Cora rubbed at her bruised throat and tried not to cry.
By nightfall, her nerves were in shreds. The children refused to sleep alone, so making sure they had everything they could possibly need; she let them sleep in her room and barricaded the door with a chair. She cursed Liam for his cowardice because she knew the events of last night frightened him. He wasn’t prepared to confront the unknown but was willing to let his wife and children face whatever danger there was.
The children were worn out and slept within minutes. Cora stayed awake watching the clock and listening for the slightest sound.
All around her the house settled. Timbers groaned and creaked, the shutters outside the windows, squeaked on their dry, new hinges, even the panelling in the hall crackled. She felt beads of sweat on her lip and her heart pounded painfully, as she strained to catch each sound. There were footsteps on the gallery outside. There was no mistaking the tread on the boards; soft, light footfalls. Cora crept to the door and placed her ear against it. The footsteps came closer and she held her breath as they stopped outside her door.
“Please,” she whispered. “I’m alone with two children. Please don’t hurt us.”
The only reply was a heart-rending sigh, as the footsteps retreated.
Cora was shivering so badly her teeth chattered and she could not remember if she had slept immediately after returning to the bed or fainted. But it was morning when she woke, and from outside came the thundering of trucks on the drive and the loud, good natured banter of the workmen.