The Dark One stood amid storm tossed trees and watched as Annie sobbed over her own grave.
“I am so frightened, Dora,” she whispered. “Meg’s gone and I’m all alone. There is no one to guide me and I am weary. I want to lie down with you and sleep for the rest of eternity.”
The Dark One felt the spirits being moved by her plight. They came from out of the earth, from the sky and their voices echoed in the wind. His enemy was frightened, and he had a right to be so. As soon as he harnessed that girl’s power, he, once called Prince of Angels, would be as strong as the one calling himself God. Then the continuation of the world would be in his hands and he would wreak havoc on all who opposed him. Even now he felt those that lurked in the dark shadows drawing nearer, sensing his strength.
“Let me help you.”
Annie looked up, then shied back from his touch.
“You help me? All you have ever done is hurt anyone who has crossed your path. Why would you help me now, Lucifer?”
“I told you before. Do not speak that name.”
The skin rippled on his face threatening to expose his true features, and the fire in his eyes glowed, as he tried to control his rage.
“Don’t anger me, woman,” he warned. “You, who are without ally, cannot afford to turn down my offer.”
“An offer of eternal damnation?”
“That is not so. I will give you your life back, as promised. You will live out your allotted time and all you love will be restored.”
Annie looked down at the still, silent grave and the dark earth covering her sister.
“She was so young,” The Dark One picked up some of the soil and crumbled it between his fingers. “What a full life she could have lived, but for your selfishness; I would have destroyed the O Brien’s back then and all of this suffering could have been avoided. Yet even now you allow it to continue and another child has died because of him.”
“Then it is as I suspected, the child is dead?”
“A boy child,” The Dark One laughed.
Annie looked at him, disgusted.
“Well, you have to admit it’s amusing.”
“I find no merriment in the taking of life. Get out of my sight, Lucifer.”
This time the use of his given name had no effect on him.
“But it is your fault, if you would, but once admit it. You allow him to live and he will sire others. That woman, the one he calls wife, is not the only one he lies with.”
She could still hear his laughter as he faded back into the shadows. It was her fault, what he said was the truth. If she had given him her power all the suffering could have been avoided.
The house lay shrouded in night, as she moved towards it. All around her the good spirits beseeched her not to go there, but she was beyond reason. She moved silent as death up the steps towards the main door and stood in the shadows, waiting.
Liam groaned, as he drove up the driveway. The trees arched across his path; bending and swaying until he was sure they would scratch the paintwork of his car. He would have to see about cutting them down. A branch scraped across the roof as though reading his thoughts.
“Fuck,” he muttered, and put his foot down hard on the accelerator.
A shower of gravel, thrown up by the car wheels, heralded his arrival at the front door. Ducking his head against the storm, he ran up the steps. The key creaked, as he turned it, and before he closed the door, Annie glided by him. Inside the house was inky black, and he felt his way along the wall for a light switch. The light from the grand chandelier was harsh and lit up the streaks of blood at the bottom of the stairs. He ignored them and went towards his study. The house felt damp, a fault with the boiler, he thought, but he was too tired to correct it. The wait in the hospital seemed eternal. Four hours playing the devoted husband drained him. Hours when he could have been attending to better things. He smirked, thinking of what his dear wife referred to as his latest pillow friend. God, but women bored him. The wiles and whispered promises made his teeth itch. Whores, every one of them, but he made them pay and laughed when their words of love turned to screams of pain. Being the dumb creatures, they were, they came back for more; like whipped dogs cowering before their master.
Logs were piled beside the fire, so he threw some into the grate and set them alight. Taking his hankie from his pocket, he rubbed at his nose. The room smelled musty and a damp odour seemed to surround him.
Annie heard his every thought as though spoken and noticed how his hand shook as he filled a glass from a decanter.
I stayed as long as was necessary, he told himself. After all, the doctor said she would sleep for hours after the anaesthetic. No point in hanging around. The child was dead, best thing for everyone really. When she returned from the hospital, they could all go away for a few days as a family. Women liked that sort of things and she would soon forget the baby. Yes, a holiday would do him good, somewhere hot put a bit of colour into his skin. He held out his hands to inspect their paleness.
Outside despite the storm, the trees stretched skywards reaching out for the heavens. Fighting the force of the wind, they held their branches aloft and begged God to be merciful on one they loved. Even those who lived by the sea and knew well its ways; wondered why tonight of all nights, its voice was so loud. It roared and tossed, giant waves thundered towards the shore and shattered against rocks. The night creatures of forest and hedgerows covered their eyes and wept. “Will you abandon us?” The elements cried. “Will you let the one who was cast down have power over us, as you did to her who was part of us all?”
The heavens lay silent. Even the light from the few stars glowing through the blackness seemed to dim. They must stand alone and be Annie’s only hope. The trees called to the earth and all who inhabited it. From out of the forest came the first creatures. Fox and deer wild cats, rats and even owls worked side by side as they dug into Dora’s grave. Earth flew left and right as sharp claw and nail pierced the soil.
“Come child, come,” The spirits urged. “Your sister is in need of you.”
A small white hand forced its way through the earth and then another until soon, Dora was heaving herself up from the dank hole and running towards the house.
Annie could feel the changes occurring. The smell of her own body sickened her. It was of mould and decay. She knew her features must be frightening and when she touched her hair she cried, a shuddering, sobbing, pain-filled cry. Small tufts as dry as straw laced her fingers. This was his fault; she looked at Liam who had dropped his brandy at the sound. Up till now, she had not allowed him to see her, but that was about to change…
“Annie, Annie,” Dora ran up the steps of the house and tapped at the door. “Annie, let me in.”
Liam looked around, trying to see where the noise was coming from. Annie’s heart ached at the sound of the long-lost voice, but she did not move. The spirits were clever; they would try to distract her. The knocking continued, and Liam who was still shaking from the cry, got up to see what it was. Dora ran past him when he opened the door. The only thing he felt was the force of the wind. There was nothing there. Not for the first time did he question his choice of house. These old places were filled with creaks and groans. Shivering, he went back to the fire.
Annie held Dora and brushed away the dried earth from her face and picked little clumps from her hair, every trace of anger gone now she had her sister back.
“You have to come with me, Annie. Mamma says so.” The child looked up at her. “It is dark, and I am cold.”
“I will come with you, I promise, but not now. You must go back and wait for me.”
“I do not want to. I want to stay with you.”
Before Annie could answer, Liam banged his refilled glass down on the side table. Dora screamed.
“It is him, Annie, Hugh.”
“No,” Annie held her closer. “It is not Hugh; it is someone belonging to him.”
“He hurt me.”
“I know, my sweet, but he cannot hurt you anymore. He cannot even see you”
“He cannot, really, why?”
Annie shrugged, unsure of what to say, but this seemed great fun to Dora, and she crept closer to Liam. Had he been able to see the long dead child, he would have lost his mind. But then so would Annie. All she saw was a rosy-cheeked, blond-haired little girl with her face pressed against Liam’s. In truth, the nose almost touching his was stripped bare of flesh. The blue eyes sparkling with mischief were dark endless hollows, and the flowing hair, tattered tendrils framing the grinning skull.
“You hurt me,” Dora whispered and reached out towards his drink.
An invisible hand swept it from the table. Liam gaped at the fallen glass and spilled liquid.
Dora delighted with her prank, ran from the room and up the stairs. Sure, Annie would scold her; she hid in the shadows on the gallery.
Liam dropped to his knees and mopped at the stain on his Persian rug. The wind shook the shutters on the window and pried them loose. The sound of the wood hitting against the frame made him scream. From within the storm The Dark One watched the tableau and rubbed his hands with glee. Lightening struck the power lines plunging the house into darkness.
Liam, glad of the firelight, took the two ornate holders from the mantelpiece and lit the candles.
Annie crept up the stairs in search of her sister. When Dora heard her coming, she ran further into the house.
“Dora, come back here.”
“You have to find me,” the child giggled and climbed upwards.
Liam looked towards the ceiling and called out to his daughters to be quiet. It was then he remembered they were not there. He was apprehensive, not about ghosts or spirits, because he believed in nothing. Still, there was someone in the house. There was no mistaking the patter of footsteps on the floor above. He wished there were more lights. Despite piling logs on the flames, the fire seemed to lose its glow, and dark shadows crept from the corners of the room. It was no use; he would have to investigate. Taking one of the candlesticks, he moved towards the door.
The hall lay shrouded in moonbeams and darting shapes moved all around him. Leaves, he comforted himself, shadows of leaves being tossed about in the storm outside and reflecting on the floor. But these were nothing so innocent. From out of the darkness the lost souls urged him up, wanting to please their master and bring about Liam’s end. They knew she was up there. The one who could set them free as the master promised. But they were hindered in their work by the others; the ones who worked beside her. Time after time strong hands reached out and pulled them back into the shadows.
Liam moved up winching at each creaking board on the stairs. Somewhere above him a door banged, and he almost dropped the candle. His heart thudded against his ribs and he held the light higher. Was there something crouched at the gallery rail? Cold fear wandered down his spine, sweat coated his upper lip and he stood uncertain of what to do. For a moment all was quiet within the house, except for the sound of the rain on the roof, persistent and melancholic.
“Fuck this,” his voice shattered the silence. “You’re dead, do you hear me. Whoever you are, you’re dead when I get my hands on you.”
“Annie,” Dora came running from her hiding place. “He is going to kill us.”
“No, he is not,” she watched the flame as it moved closer. “Not this time, come.”
She led Dora into the children’s room. The dark was the same as the light to them and the child squealed with delight her fear forgotten when she saw the array of dolls.
“Now, stay here and play,” Annie said. “I will lead him away.”
Dora nodded and picked up the nearest doll.
“Look at me,” Annie turned her face towards her. “I mean what I say. You must stay here. No matter what you hear, Promise.”
Dora nodded again and Annie wagged her finger at her.
“Say you promise. Cross your heart and hope to…”
Dora’s fingers on her lips stopped her.
“Do not say that, Annie. Remember the last time?”
Annie remembered too well and after Dora assured her, she would stay put, she went in search of Liam. Which was no hard feat, as he stumbled along the corridor, a candle in one hand and a small marble statue in the other by way of a weapon? Annie ran by him and up the next flight of stairs towards the attic.
Liam raised the hand holding the statue and wiped his forehead. His shirt clung to his back and the wool from his pants chaffed his sweat-soaked thighs. Every nerve in his body screamed at him to get out, but something was urging him on. A sinister seductiveness surrounded him pulling him towards it. The door to the attic stairs swung noiselessly open and his feet moved forward, despite his terror. Unbroken veils of cobwebs blocked his path and he pushed them aside with the statue. White silken gossamer clung to his sleeves and about his shoulders, making him glow against the black background. Someone stood silhouetted by the window.
“Come out of the shadows. I’m warning you,” Liam raised the statue higher.
Annie walked towards him, the Annie of old with her waist length hair and winning smile. For a moment Liam was taken aback, until she spoke.
“Welcome, I have been waiting for you,” leaning over, she blew the candle out.