Author’s Spotlight: Harriet N. Everend Interview

MY FIRST AUTHOR INTERVIEW!!!! ❤❤

Dr. K's Waiting Room

Harriet N. Everend, author of Cursed Legacy

1. First, introduce yourself a bit. What is your name (or pen name) and where are you from?

My pen name is Harriet N. Everend. Born and raised in small-town Iowa, I currently reside in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA.

2.Next, tell us a bit about your most recent work. Is this your first published book? What is it about and what genre would you classify it as?

Cursed Legacy is my first published novel. The central synopsis is focused around four families affected by the same curse of a mysterious entity over several generations. I would personally classify it as horror and/or thriller.

3. Tell us a bit about your main character; what are they like, how did they come about, and what are some of their strengths and weaknesses?

My story is a bit different in there aren’t main characters, but…

View original post 1,340 more words

Chapter 6 : November 1849

-Jonathan Rosenthal-

“No issues for 19 years, Jonathan! Things are happening again, and that isn’t a coincidence!”

I hadn’t seen Louise this upset since the incident all those years before. If Stacey hadn’t been so foolish, she and Hazel would still be alive. Maybe the powers above thought it was their time to go. Personally, I think He had something do with it. Everything had been so peaceful. But as I’ve learned, things around here don’t stay peaceful for long. It’s only a matter of time before He pops back into our lives.

            “Been hearing such strange sounds. They remind me of those screams we heard shortly after Stacey…” Louise trailed off and stared out the window. “A silver mist has been rising out. It smells absolutely horrid. But it only happens on certain nights. I haven’t distinguished a consistent pattern yet.”

            “You said this has been going on for the last three months?” I questioned. “Why didn’t you inform me sooner?”

            I watched her face scrunch in irritation. “I don’t know. I would not call on you every time something small happened.” She turned away and put her head in her hands. “Wanted to see if this was just a onetime thing, but I was wrong. We shouldn’t waste any more time.”

             “We need a plan. This is not the time to go into something like this blindly. When we still know very little.” I paused, wanting to choose my next set of words carefully. “Do you think we’ll need the Helm?”

            Mist began pouring from the opening steadily at the mention of the Helm. Louise backed away from the window cautiously. All I could do was watch as a layer of silvery fog settled over the area. It would have been a breathtaking sight if we were oblivious to its source.

“It IS sentient. Its reaction to the Helm alone confirms this.” Louise’s tone was one of awe mixed with terror. “Are we sure it’s a good idea to consult it? What if that’s what caused this crater to appear? We could make things worse by conferring with it.”

“It wasn’t the Helm that started all of this. That chasm was already forming before we consulted the Helm.” But I could see why this would be a concern to her. It was true the mysterious chasm stared to appear before they consulted the Helm. However, once they called on its guidance, it made the situation worse.

            “We need to try. Apparently, we must not have given the respect it deserves. There were only three of us in the room when we asked for guidance. Stacey was not there.”

            “But she was nearby! Doesn’t that still count?”

            I shrugged. “If we decide to go forward with this, we will need to have someone from the other two families here and aware to acknowledge what is going on. It’s only right.”

            Louise sighed. “Jonathan. I think we need to do something sooner rather than later. We need to sort this out once and for all.”

            A sharp knock at the door caused us to jump a little. As Louise turned to open the door, I could see it was her son Matthew. He looked flustered as he came rushing over to Louise and hugged her tightly. I got the feeling this was a private family affair. Quickly dismissing myself, I stepped out to the back of the house. I saw the silver mist she was talking about. It smells horrendous; I thought.

I continued to stare into the chasm when an idea occurred to me. What if we gathered up some men to descend inside and go exploring? I’m sure there would be enough volunteers who would help. Or would it be wise to just keep this between the four families? I shook my head.

            “We would definitely need over four people. But that means getting more innocent people involved in this mess. There has to be another way.”

Like Louise said: the fewer people who knew about this, the better. As much as having Matthew as the Porter delegate would be ideal, that was out of the question. I couldn’t ask a brand-new father to go on such a dangerous venture. He needed to be there to provide while his wife was taking care of the baby. I couldn’t ask Louise to go either. She was too old, and women didn’t need to get themselves mixed up in such affairs.

“Is everything okay?” Louise must have wondered where I’d gone. She came and stood beside me. “Sorry about that. Had to reassure my son he’d be a wonderful father and to be with his wife.”

All I could do was nod. “I’ve been giving this some thought. Since our odds of utilizing the Helm are high, we will definitely need to get someone from each family. But it might not be enough with just four of us.”

“Jonathan, you know what I said –”

“I have taken this into consideration. But we don’t know what we’re up against. At the very least, we need someone to know what’s going on. Just in case something was to go horribly wrong.” I sighed again. “I don’t think it’s wise for you to take part in this venture.”

I heard her gasp. “You don’t get to determine that. This is on my property, and you have no right to stop me!”

“This is going to be incredibly dangerous! Think about your son. Your new grandchild. I would ask Matthew to go in your place—”

“Absolutely not!” Louise shrieked. “Look, I know I’m older and don’t get around as well as most. But I can be useful. This can still work. Have you thought of who can be called upon from the Borne’s and the Sterling’s?”

“Not sure who would be a good option from the Sterling’s, but I thought of Stacey’s nephew, Carl. He’s a miner by trade and would know the safest ways to get around.”

Louise nodded. “He would be ideal. Does he still live here in Norwich?”

“I can ask his mother. I’m sure she’d know.”

“I had someone who crossed my mind from the Sterling’s. He is known for his studies in the supernatural –”

Holding my hand up, I stopped her from saying anymore. “If you suggest Merle, then don’t bother expecting me to show up to help.”

I heard Louise huff in disagreement but didn’t press the issue. “Regardless, we need to get this underway. No sense in dallying.”

“Shall we meet again in a week’s time to proceed?”

Louise nodded. “Yes. That will be more than enough time.”

“I shall contact Carl in the morning and see what his thoughts are on this.”

“Don’t see why he would oppose. You know the Borne’s; always thirsting for knowledge. I shall try to see if there is someone from the Sterling’s who can aid us.”

I bid Louise good night and made my way back home. Before I knew it, a week had gone by. I had told Carl to meet me at Louise’s house a little after 10:00. He seemed intrigued in knowing more and happily obliged to help. As 10:15 rolled around, I saw a figure approaching the house.

            “Why is he here?” I scoffed. “You knew about my circumstance with this.”

            I saw Louise roll her eyes at me. “He is going to be extremely valuable with the supernatural elements of this. I had tried contacting a cousin of his, but he refused. Merle is the only option we have to do this.” She crossed her arms. “You’re just going to deal with that Jonathan.”

            Before I retort back, Merle had moved toward the two of us. He gave Louise a quick hug and talked to her for a few seconds before he turned his attention to me.

            “Jonathan. It’s been a while. I hope all has been well with you.” Merle had always been friendly, but I could tell he was trying to be careful with how he addressed me.

            I curtly nodded before I diverted my attention to an unknown person approaching the house. They were taking in their surroundings before seeing the house and made a dash to it. As they got closer, it appeared to be a young man. But upon a second look, he had very feminine features, and the clothing he was wearing were too baggy.

            “Hello.”

I was more confused than before. His voice was higher pitched and sounded gentle. There was something about him that was familiar, but I couldn’t place my finger on it.

            Louise, however, knew exactly who this was. “Bella! It’s been quite some time!”

It finally dawned on me I was not looking at a girlish male, but a woman disguised as one! She had some nerve dressing herself like this. Did she have no respect? I knew Carl Borne well. Not only did he not have a sister, there was no way he would allow her to leave the house dressed so poorly.

 “So, you’re wearing pants? I really hope no one saw you dressed like this.”

            Bella laughed lightly. “Even if they did, what does it matter? Most think of me as a man anyway with this short haircut and confident demeanor.”

            I cleared my throat. “Who are you exactly? Why are you here? We are waiting for someone so we can take care of some personal matters.”

            She turned to me; her eyes narrowed slightly. “Jonathan Rosenthal, right? My brother wanted me to tell you he cannot make it. He expresses his most sincere apologies.”

            “Your brother? Carl Borne does not have a sister! I would know if he did as I am a close friend of his.”

            Bella rolled her eyes at me. “You must not be as close to my brother as you think if you weren’t aware that he had a sister. Shall I fetch him for you to confirm this?”

Instead of waiting for my response, Bella directed her attention to Merle. As they engaged in conversation, I could feel Louise’s questioning stare on me. 

“What was that about, Jonathan?” She whispered harshly. “You’re the one who said we needed the help. We have someone from each family here. Don’t turn them away from helping us!”

Deep down, I knew she was right. The initial display I had toward Bella was a tad rude, and I hoped to correct that. Taking a moment to collect myself, I interjected myself into their conversation. “That won’t be necessary. We have little time as it is. For now, I’ll just take your word for it, Ms. Borne.”

            “Just Bella, Mr. Rosenthal.” She turned to the chasm and began examining it. When I arrived this morning, the activity had exploded from a week ago. Louise had questioned if it would be a good idea to proceed.

            “Is this what has everyone riled up?” Bella interrupted my thoughts. “Doesn’t look abnormal at all.” I watched her walk closer and peer down into the opening. Merle had joined her near the edge as well. They were engaged in a rather animated conversation while observing the silver mist that arose.

            “Careful!” I shouted. “You don’t know what’s down there, you dolts!”

            Merle and Bella both turned toward me. He had a look of concern while she seemed aggravated; even Louise was irritated with how I was acting.

            “Mr. Rosenthal.” I could tell she was trying to maintain composure in her tone while speaking to me. “This is nothing more than an unusually large chasm. I can see the concern because of its sheer size, but there doesn’t appear to be anything else out of the ordinary.”

            Merle looked at her with genuine intrigue. “How does this even come to be? I can say I know little on the subject personally, but always like to expand my knowledge.”

She gave him a soft smile before continuing. “If rocks below the ground are made of minerals that are easily dissolved by water, that water can get trapped beneath said surface. This will cause natural underground currents, and those currents could easily dissolve the rocks and create a hole underground.”

“How does that make its way up to us?” Merle asked.

“The top of that chasm will slowly grow toward the surface. This will make the surface layer thinner and thinner until it becomes too weak to support whatever is above it. When that happens, it creates a chasm. Science will prove this chasm is natural and not something unearthly.”

More silver mist curled from the opening. I watched Merle pull out a small bottle and collected some of it. He was careful not to let any of it touch his skin. “What about the silver mist? As an occultist, seeing silver mist has been tied with the spectral form of someone who has passed on. That definitely isn’t something traditional science can explain.”

Bella opened her mouth to say something, but stopped herself. “Mr. Sterling—”

“Just Merle. Please. I’m not big into formalities.”

             “The mist you collected is just vapor. And those wails you’re hearing? It’s merely friction between rocks beneath the surface. Everything going on here has a sound reason and has nothing to do with superstitions.” She glanced at Merle. “No offense there, I hope.”

            If he seemed offended, I didn’t register any on Merle’s face as he continued to collect samples of mist. “Not at all, my dear. I am aware not everyone is ready to face that reality.” He gave her a wink. “But the occult and science really go hand-in-hand with each other. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more. Maybe we can collaborate on a project together.”

Bella gave him a rueful smile before turning to Louise and I. “You two saw the ‘birth’ of this chasm. Is there anything more you can tell me more—”

             A guttural growl cut her off. We all looked to the chasm and saw the mist was now an ugly green color. Before any of us could react, Merle began pushing all of us away from the opening and toward the house. Once we were inside, he said an incantation and sprinkled red powder at the bottom of the door. The three of us watched him as he stood still for a few moments before facing us. He had a serious and scary look in his eye.

            “Why didn’t you say we were dealing with Him?”

            Louise seemed unconcerned with Merle’s behavior. “I knew you would be hesitant to come here if I bluntly told you what was going on. Given what happened to Hazel, I understand. But you are the only Sterling still around this area who could help figure this out.” She took a step forward and tightly embraced him. “I’m very sorry I wasn’t honest with you from the beginning.”

            Accepting her hug, they remained that way for a moment before he stepped back and looked out the window as the mist became thicker outside.

            “Red brick dust is very effective regarding home protection and against evil beings. For good measure, I placed a powerful defense incantation on this space.” He turned toward me. “Where is the Helm? We need to act fast.”

            I went to fetch the leather casing from my bag. Carefully pulling it out, I placed it on the kitchen table. Louise, Merle, and I each took a spot around the table. Bella, however, took a step back.

            “What is that thing?”

            Louise looked bewildered. “You don’t know?”

            “Know what? I’m not even sure what’s going on right now. Talks about Him and that strange-looking piece of metal –”

            I quickly covered her mouth from saying anything further. She fought against me, but it was no use. I made a motion for Louise to come over and help me.

            “Bella.” She cautiously whispered. “I must implore you to say nothing negative about the Helm. This all must be strange for you. Now that I think it about it, it makes sense. Of course your father wouldn’t mention anything.” Louise gave me a look, and I quickly let go of Bella.

            “Mention what? What is even going on?” Her eyes widened a little, and she panicked. “Is my brother part of some secret cult?”

            Louise shook her head quickly. “No. But your father shouldn’t have kept you in the dark about this. Your family is cursed and will continue to be that way until we figure out a way to stop Him.”

            “Who’s we? Who is Him?”

            “He is the entity we think is solely responsible for this curse. There have been terrible things He has done against our families. Everyone in this room is affected by the same haunting. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. The Helm is a powerful artifact that can help or hurt us while trying to solve what’s going on.” She took Bella’s hand into her own and looked deep in her eyes. “Please trust me and help us.”

“There are forces here at work more powerful than us. There’s something trapped in that pit, and it’s something much bigger than our differences. Please stay and help.” I pled.

            Bella’s face went from confused to determined. “You will explain more of the finer details later, but if you say this is important… then I shall believe you and help. Just tell me what I need to do.”

            “Stand over by Merle.” I spoke. “We all need to be touching the Helm when we ask for its guidance.”

            “We really should do this near the chasm.” Merle commented. “I strongly feel it will help matters.”

            We made our way outside to stand near it. The silver mist was so thick, it was hard to see where everyone else was. Standing in a small circle, all of us placed our hand underneath the relic as I asked for wisdom and what we needed to do to stop this. I closed my eyes to focus on the task at hand. When I opened them, I was alone and no longer in Louise’s backyard.

            “Hello?” I called out. “Somebody?”

I was met with silence. I looked around and nothing was familiar except for the Helm at my feet. I breathed a sigh of relief as I picked it up carefully and placed it inside my jacket pocket. When I looked up, I could just make out what looked like blue sky. But it was so far away. Not to mention that the silver mist seemed to be at its thickest so far. It almost felt like I was in a deep hole. It dawned on me: was I inside the chasm?

I heard a quiet pop to my left, and I saw a black door. It had an intricate design, and the silver mist dissipated from around it. The door appeared to be open slightly; it felt like it was tempting me to get closer. Calling out to my companions once again and still receiving no answer, I walked to the door and pulled it open. There was a staircase that led to complete darkness. There didn’t seem to be anything else. Taking a deep breath, I proceeded forward down the stairs.

            “What is this place? Maybe I should go.” I continued into the darkness. Suddenly, the area filled with a glowing red light, and I was in an unfamiliar room. Sitting on a lone table was a bottle. It looked similar to the one Merle was carrying, but the only difference was this bottle held a golden mist. I wondering if taking this would result in a fatal consequence.

            “I’ll take my chances.” I picked up the bottle and immediately heard a voice. It sounded like Louise, but it was too far away to be sure. However, the message was clear: they were calling for help.

Another set of stairs materialized to proceed further down. My curiosity grew, but I decided to go back through the door out of here to look for my missing companions. As I made my way back to the stairs, a note fell from above me. It read: Bottle of Mist: Drink from it or suffer a consequence. What kind of consequence? Being ambiguous was something that irritated me.

“What would I suffer? You can’t hurt me!” Maybe mockery wasn’t the best approach, but there was no way in hell I was drinking whatever was in that bottle. “Give me your worst!” I was losing it. There was no one else here but me as far as I could see.

I made my way up the stairs, still carrying the bottle of mist. Maybe Merle could analyze this or something. Once I went through the door, a scream pierced the air. Whoever produced it was nearby.

“Who’s out there?!” I shouted. I heard running footsteps. I pulled out my pistol just in case it was something unsavory. Doing a quick rotation of the immediate area, I didn’t see anyone.

“Jonathan! My God!” Bella crushed me into a hug. It bewildered me. Where did she come from so fast? I hadn’t seen her at all. I hesitantly hugged her back.

“What is this place?” She asked me. Inspecting her appearance, she was in rough shape. She had a nasty cut on her arm; her pants ripped along the bottom. There was something in her hands that she tightly clutched. “I’m so glad I found you. After we consulted the Helm, I was all alone in this strange place. It almost looks like we’re inside that chasm.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I came to that same conclusion. You have seen no one else, have you?” I was hopeful she knew where Louise and Merle were. She shook her head.

“I haven’t seen them. Was about to ask you the same question. Hey, did you find a black door?” My heart stopped for a second upon hearing her question. “It probably wasn’t wise of me, but something was beckoning me to come inside. While I was there, I found this strange timepiece.”

She showed me a small pocket watch. It was gold and appeared to be brand new. It had a peculiar design inscribed on the back. But as I studied it, I noticed something strange. The hands were going the wrong way. When I tried adjusting it, the watch refused and continued to tick backward.

“There was a note next to it, saying it was a mystical clock,” Bella took it back from me, “and that if I wanted to take it with me, I had to provide a small sample of blood in its place. That’s how I got the gash in my arm.”

            “Let’s go find the others. They have to be around here somewhere.” We started walking in the hazy landscape in search of Merle and Louise. Occasionally, we would hear someone shouting, but never came across anyone else. Bella and I would take turns calling out to them. But we were always met with silence. As we continued looking, I had this unsettling feeling as though we were being watched, and not just by the usual horrors of these subterranean worlds. There was a part of me that just knew it was Him. He was there, just out of sight, in a land we can’t reach. 

After some time had passed, Bella suddenly stopped. “Um, Jonathan? Have we been going in circles?”

Perplexed by her reaction, I told her we had been talking in a straight line since she found me. I followed her gaze and saw nothing that could be cause for concern. “What’s gotten you into such a bewildered state? There’s nothing but more trees and mist.”

“Where did that door come from then?” She pointed just off to my right. I took a step back, my breath catching in my throat. The same black door we encountered was there. However, we heard voices coming from inside. 

“Should we call out?” Bella whispered, but the door opened wide before I could answer her. Walking from the doorway was Louise, followed closely by Merle. Her eyes blinked rapidly at us as though she couldn’t believe we were there. I watched her tug at Merle’s arm to get his attention. He whipped around and rushed at us. Grabbing me by the shirt collar, he pinned me against a tree and pointed his revolver to my head.

“State your full name, your occupation, and the names of your children. If you don’t answer me in five seconds, I’ll shoot!” He growled. 

Confused and annoyed at Merle’s behavior, I humored him. “Jonathan Richard Rosenthal, bartender at Fonseca’s, and the names of my children are James, Jebediah and Jezebel.”

He released me and did the same interrogation to Bella. Merle put his gun away afterward, his face relaxing.

“I’m sure you’re wondering what that was about—”

“You’re damn right I am! What the hell was that?” I shouted. “You know who we are. Was that dramatic interrogation necessary!?”

“It was necessary, Jonathan! Needed to make sure you were who you say you were!” 

Louise came between us. “But you have proven it is Jonathan and Bella. Everything is fine.”

“What did you see?” Bella asked.

Merle glanced over to her. “A demonic being posing as an innocent child. That’s all I’m going to say.”

A shudder ran through my body. “You’re right. I’m glad neither one of us encountered that. Did you see this demon while exploring what’s behind that door?”

“I’m surprised we didn’t seem more. But Louise and I found some valuable items while we were exploring. She found this amazing amber sphere that will heal nearly any injury you receive.”

“But I did have to leave behind my father’s revolver in order to get it. I felt it was a fair enough price to pay. That old revolver was on the brink of falling apart. Merle, however, found this amulet. It’s definitely something to behold.”

Merle pulled on the chain and revealed the gorgeous charm There was a red stone in the middle; the casing resembled a star, and it was being held by a silver chain. I could definitely feel an aura of how powerful this amulet was, and I was never one to believe in any of that. But there was certainly a feeling of intense energy as soon as I laid eyes on it.

“What did it cost to acquire that?” Bella asked, still in awe over the amulet.

The expression on Merle’s face twitched slightly, but I seemed to be the only one who caught the strange spasm of movement. “It cost me dearly, but it was still worth it. I will know when He comes to collect on it, but I will take the advantages I have now.” He jerked his head toward the door as he tucked the amulet back into his shirt. “Speaking of that doorway, do either of you know where it leads to?”

Bella and I shook our heads. I had assumed it was another part of the chasm and had given little thought. 

“Those doors are the opening to the Realms of Hell.  I was getting negative energy when I first saw the chasm, but wasn’t expecting this at all.” Merle’s voice was cautious, and it felt he was choosing his words carefully. 

            “What are the Realms of Hell?” Bella was skeptical. “We’re still talking about the same Hell taught to us when we go to church, yes?”

            “It’s more complicated than a straight yes or no. Have you read ‘Dante’s Inferno’ by Dante Alighieri? He mentioned the nine circles of Hell. The Realms of Hell are like that, but they’re very much real and extremely dangerous.”

            “This is no coincidence that the doorway to the underworld appeared. We must be getting closer to where He is. He’s trying to lure us here. I’m sorry to get you all involved in this. By entering this chasm, that must have set off unlocking this accursed doorway.”

            I could feel the others staring at me. Louise finally spoke up. “How could we have known by exploring this chasm, we’d be unlocking it? We were trying to do our due diligence and learn more about it. I think it’s safe to say we did that.”

            “Now it’s time to decide what we should do next to make sure He is sealed away and stop the curse on our families. This might sound messed up, but this is a blessing,” explained Merle. “Imagine if we didn’t explore the chasm, we would have never found this doorway. He could have come through while we were oblivious and killed us with no warning.”

“This path should not have opened! We should have been more careful.” It irritated me they weren’t taking this as seriously as I was. We were in real danger if we stayed much longer. “I think it would be wise for us to leave here now. All those items we took from the Realms? Let’s just leave them here. We don’t need to create any more trouble.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder, causing me to tense up. “Jonathan,” Louise softly said. “It will be okay. Maybe it would be best for us to leave here. Merle already has a suggestion he wants to run by you when we leave here.”

“If the Helm can bring us here, I think it can bring us back to the surface as well. But just to be sure, we’ll all have to leave our mark on it.”

Pulling out a small blade from its holder, I removed the Helm from my pocket and placed it gently onto the ground. I popped my blade open and sliced my finger. Bright red blood trailed down my finger as I let a droplet fall onto my family crest. Passing the blade around, the others repeated my actions until we filled four new sections on the Helm.

“Can you show us the way out of this chasm and back to the surface world?” I whispered as we picked it up.

The glow from the Helm became brighter, and I had to avert my eyes so I wouldn’t blind myself. I heard growling coming from Merle’s direction. I briefly opened my eyes to see a pair of red eyes behind him, staring right at me. In that moment, I couldn’t move at all as the figure got closer. I couldn’t tell what it was, but whatever it was, it was massive and threatening in appearance.

“I can feel His hunger has almost been sated. He is almost strong enough to act. His hate is everywhere.”

            I didn’t recognize the voice, but their words unsettled me. Was it a warning what was about to come, or was it another trick to get me to let my guard down? Either way, I would not take any chances. I continued to focus on getting us out of this place and away from whatever threats were down there waiting to strike. A loud scream broke my concentration, and I looked to my companions for answers. They were all staring upward to the top of the chasm; back to a safe haven.

“Thank you for your sacrifice, Jonathan Rosenthal. I shall see you again shortly.”

A raspy voice whispered into my left ear. When I turned to see who was there, there was no one except the same glowing red eyes as before. I turned to my other side to warn Bella, but all I saw was Louise’s house. Realizing we were back on the surface sent a wave of relief rushing through me. For the time being, I forgot about the unknown voice that threatened me; I was just happy to be back here. Surveying the others, I saw Louise hugging Bella close and Merle was back at the opening of the chasm.

            “What you doing Merle?” I asked.

            Swiftly but carefully, he turned to face us and held a finger to his lips. Louise and Bella came to stand next to me as we watched Merle take out a small kit filled with vials of different colored powders and liquids. He was reciting something in Latin while taking three of the vials with pink liquid and popped them open. Merle stood up and made his way around the chasm while tipping the contents of the bottles onto the ground. When he completed the loop, the pink liquid on the ground sizzled aggressively. I could hear screams from the bottom of the chasm as Merle continued to speak Latin; the liquid continued to bubble.

            “The hole is getting smaller!” Louise whispered.

            Once again, Merle took three bottles of orange powder from the small kit and repeated the same process as before. The screaming intensified and I could hear a low growl. A black paw lurched from the opening and took a swipe at Merle. I heard Bella scream in terror and reached out for him as Louise and I kept her back. However, Merle seemed unfazed by what had happened as the appendage continued to swing in the air before getting a strike on his arm. As soon as the paw vanished in the hole, the chasm disappeared entirely.

Something cold hit my cheek, catching me off-guard. It was snowing; large flakes danced in the air and quickly covered everything in white. It brought a sense of peace to my mind despite what we just went through.

“I have never been happier to see snow in my entire life,” I heard Merle say. I could see that his arm was bleeding, but it didn’t seem to distress him.

“Thank God you’re safe!”

Bella ran toward him and grabbed him in a tight hug. When she went to examine his arm, he picked her up and spun her around gently. They were lost in their own little world, so I gave them their privacy and joined Louise.

“At least something good came from this.” She was staring where the chasm once was. “It might seem insignificant, but we did something momentous tonight by sealing the cavern. I can rest easy for the first time in a long time.”

I nodded in agreement. “Do you think we finally stopped Him?”

Louise shook her head. “No. We need to find all the cursed items and destroy them. But for now, we can appreciate this moment. I have this feeling He will have a hard time trying to surface soon.”

“Then allow ourselves to rest easy. Let’s be grateful for what we have and cherish it.”

Betrayal Legacy: Chapter 5

Autumnal Equinox, 1830

I think I’m starting to go mad. The voices are getting worse. I don’t know they’re real or all in my head. All I know is I can’t deal with being alone. After my brother Roy kicked me out, I was grateful Hazel had offered me to stay with her.

“As long as you don’t mind living with three other people besides me,” she chuckled.

“No, I don’t mind at all. I’m just fortunate to have a dear friend like you who is offering me a place to live. Who else lives here with you?”

“You know Jésus. He still lives in the guest quarters separate from the house.”

            Jésus was a wonderful guy. I still feel bad that I was initially skeptical about him. When we first met, he shook my hand with an unusually weak grip and I was immediately suspicious. My father had told me growing up that a man with a weak handshake couldn’t be trusted.

“Not really a man of words. Just like working with my hands and feeling the energy from the earth.”

Since that meeting, we became friends and shared many interests. I was surprised he still resided here. He had been offered another job that paid better, but said he’d rather work here.

“I know this house and this land have their oddities, but in a way…this place feels just like my childhood home. I feel like I have a purpose here.”

Hazel was nervous about something. She was fiddling with her hair ribbon, refusing to look at me directly. “What’s wrong? Why are you uneasy?”

She raised her eyes to me. “The other resident that lives here is Louise. But you have to understand, Stacey. She’s desperate and has to think of her son –”

“There’s no need to explain Hazel. It’s water under the bridge. I no longer have ill feelings toward her.” It was a lie, but I really needed somewhere to live. As long as I didn’t run into her, all would be fine.

Louise was Henry’s granddaughter. We met at his funeral. She was a couple years older than Hazel, but they had become friends while attending school. Hazel had introduced us, and the three of us were inseparable for years. As long as I had Hazel and Louise in my life, that’s all that mattered.

The three of us had been invited to Eli Porter’s house for a dinner party. Eli was Louise’s older brother and was a councilman. He threw many extravagant parties, inviting anyone who was interested regardless of social status. I felt a lot of this had to do with filling the void of losing his son. Timothy had been assisting his uncle at the mines when he slipped and fell to his death. Eli and Josslyn were devastated. They still had three children whom they held closer since Timothy’s untimely death.

As I fetched another glass of wine, I nearly spilled it onto a tall gentleman. This gentleman was Jeremie Rosenthal. He was the assistant to the city manager. After I had profusely apologized to him, he told me it wasn’t a big deal. Jeremie said he was clumsy as well.  We spent the rest of the party engaged in conversation, developing a mutual attraction for each other. A couple months later, he officially began courting me. I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him.

We had been together for close to a year before deciding to marry. It was three weeks before the wedding. Louise had asked me to come by and to make sure I was alone. I hadn’t seen her in the last three months so it was nice to get to have some time with each other and catch up. Once she shut the door, Louise turned to face me but refused to look at me.  I noticed a small bump on her stomach before she quickly turned away.

“Are you with child Louise?” I was excited for her as she had been talking of wanting to settle down. Had she finally found someone that would make her happy and start a family? However, Hazel would have mentioned if Louise had been seeing someone. My happiness changed to concern as she stayed silent.

“What’s wrong? Who’s the father? Or was this not planned?” My concern heightened at the possibility of my dear friend being assaulted and carrying some bastard’s unwanted seed.

Louise rubbed her stomach slowly. “Yes. I know who the father is.” She finally turned to me with tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry Stacey.”

I was confused. “What do you mean you’re sorry? At least you know who the father is. People will talk a little bit less now. Not that it’s any of their business. People really shouldn’t be so –”

“It’s Jeremie’s. Jeremie is the father of this child, Stacey.” I could hear her gulp nervously. “It was an accident –”

My confusion turned to anger. “An accident? How could this be an accident, Louise?! Last I knew, having intimate relations with someone that ends with pregnancy is not an accident! You’re supposed to be one of my best friends! Friends don’t do this to each other!”

She made an attempt to explain what happened, but I didn’t care.

“It doesn’t matter, Louise! As far as I’m concerned, you’re no longer my friend.”

I needed to talk to Jeremie. He was just as responsible for this as she was. I thought we loved only each other. Once I got to his house, there were constables everywhere. Sitting near the front gate was his 14-year-old cousin Jonathan. He was pale and couldn’t stop shaking. This alarmed me as men weren’t supposed to cry. I ran to him and sat down. He hugged me, burying his face into my shoulder.

“I can’t get that image out of my head. Please tell me this isn’t happening.” He sobbed.

            “What are you talking about Jonathan? Where’s Jeremie? I really need to talk to him about something –”

            “He’s dead Stacey! I found him. He had hung himself.”

            To this day, Jonathan’s words still haunt me. Has it really been six years ago, I thought. Even though Jeremie betrayed me, I feel like we could have worked through this. It could have made our love even stronger than before. But it was too late now. What didn’t help was shortly after I moved in, I saw a little boy running around the yard. He looked just like Jeremie, and it took everything I had not to break down. I learned his name was Matthew, and he was Louise’s son. Though he took to me quite well, I have avoided him as much as possible. It was for the best.

            Hazel came home today with a beautiful hand mirror. “Came across an old man and his young daughter selling all kinds of trinkets. As soon as I saw this mirror, I knew it would suit you perfectly.”

            I closely examined the mirror; it was silver with an exquisite design framing the glass. I’ve never seen anything like it before. “I hope you didn’t spend a lot on this, Hazel. You didn’t have to get me anything.” I couldn’t hide my smile though. It was a thoughtful gesture. I wonder if she knew that it was the anniversary of Jeremie’s death.

“No problem at all. Actually, it didn’t cost me anything. The gentleman seemed to be pleased to be rid of it. His loss.”

She smiled at me, but I could tell it was for show. She had been gone to her sister’s funeral. Hazel told me Margaret had shot herself and her daughter found her. It was strange though. Margaret had always been upbeat and cheery. Nothing ever seemed to get her down and was a devoted mother to her only child. I suppose we all have our demons, and hers got the better of her. I wish Hazel or I would have known. Maybe we could have gotten her help.

I decided to take one more glance into the mirror before getting into bed for the night. A flash of light flickered on the glass. That’s strange, I thought. I think I’m just tired. As I placed it on my nightstand, the sound of a raspy growl filled the room.

“Stacey Borne. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The voice spoke. I looked around the room. Memories of Crebraal entered my mind, and I started shaking.

“Wh-who’s there?” I shakily asked. I got up and ran to my vanity. Sitting on top was a small wooden jewelry box where I kept Ellis’ amulet and took it out to examine it.

“No, I am not there. I’m not that insolent imp. No, I am here as a friend. I want to help you.”

I felt stupid for asking, but I was confused and wanted answers. “Who are you? Where are you at?”

The voice chuckled, its laugh unnerving and hoarse. “I am inside your mirror. If you pick it up, you will be able to see me. Much like a looking glass from the fairytales.”

Looking back at me from inside the mirror was a dark shape with red eyes. I gasped. “Sorry that my appearance makes you uncomfortable. I am here to see if you’d be willing to have a little chat with me. Get to know the person who has possession of my mirror.”

“Your mirror? I don’t understand. Hazel said she bought it from –”

“Where do you think he acquired it from? He was the previous holder, yes. But I am the one who claims it. It’s mine. But enough about that. I’m very curious to get to know you.”

We ended up talking until the early hours of the morning. I learned that it called itself Him. He said I would come to know of His name in due time. A wave of déjà vu came over me. After Crebraal, I promised myself not to allow anyone or anything to influence me. I couldn’t afford for another slip-up.  Something I quickly learned about Him was He liked to talk about himself and that he was “trapped at the dark altar”. He couldn’t get out until He completed some ritual.

Two night later, He was telling me about His newest acquisition. “Do you see them? There’s a new set of teeth. They’re just behind my other teeth. You can only see them by looking into this mirror. Oh, I can’t wait to sink them into fresh meat. It’s been too long.”

Maybe I truly was losing my mind and didn’t know what was real or what was an illusion anymore. Talking to a figure I could only see in a hand mirror. That would earn anyone a trip to the asylum. As He talked about the horrible things He would do once He got out, another flash of light appeared from the corner of the mirror’s edge. I saw a small figure of a girl in the corner. She was hiding in the shadows, looking at me despondently.  “Hey, who is that –”

The girl pointed at me, covered her mouth and shook her head. She was telling me to stop speaking. About her being there? But I wanted to know why she was there. Was she someone I could trust or was it something worse than Him? “Never mind. Just getting tired and seeing things.” I quickly explained away.

He was telling me about some powerful and ancient artifact called the Chalice of Insanity. It was my mission to find it. This chalice would be essential to unlocking Him from his prison. I do not know how to go about finding it or where to start.

“The one who ruined your life. Her great-grandfather found my chalice and it’s been with that damned family ever since!” He was talking about Louise. She has mentioned it before, but it wasn’t until that moment they were one in the same.

“There is bad blood between your families, yes? Stacey Borne, get me that chalice. If you succeed, I can make Louise disappear! I can make the whole Porter family disappear! There are great things in store if you accomplish this for me. I even have the perfect plan.”

He wanted me to wait a week before enacting the plan. It was in that moment I should have said no. It was the Crebraal situation all over again, but with a more powerful entity. However, what was being offered was tempting. When that day arrived, everything started falling into place as He said they would. It was too easy convincing little Matthew to go play upstairs. Louise and Hazel didn’t let him go up there, but he was more than eager to explore. What I was about to do didn’t need to involve the child.

Next, I needed to find Louise and get her into the cellar of the house. This was per His instructions. He also told me that I would need to convince Hazel to join her. I was hesitant to this part of His plan. Hazel was the only person whom I trusted and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.

“Have you seen Louise? I borrowed a spool of thread and need to return it to her.”

“Oh! That was awfully considerate of her. I think I last saw her down in the cellar.”

            There was a knock at the door. I heard Him chuckle at this. I didn’t dare take the mirror from my pocket to ask him what was amusing. “Perfect. This is just too easy. Jonathan Rosenthal came to you.”

            Before Hazel walked away to answer the door, I grabbed her arm. “I’ll get that for you. Can you go let Louise know about that thread?” She nodded and headed to find Louise.

Going to the door, I saw it was indeed Jonathan. He had changed so much since I last saw him at Jeremie’s funeral. “Hey there Jonathan. What brings you around?”

He held up a bag of tools. “Talked to Hazel when she was in town a few days back. She mentioned something about helping Jésus with patching up the barn door. Where is she? I needed to ask her a couple questions.”

“Oh yes! If you need her, she’s down in the cellar helping Louise with something. Go on ahead. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind at all.” 

“…like I said, too easy.” He was speaking to me in my head now. Now was the time to make preparations to kill Louise. He had reassured me that Hazel and Jonathan would not be harmed as long as I did what he asked.

            Hurrying to the door in the kitchen that led to the cellar, I turned the lock, trapping them. I ran outside to place a barrier over the outside door. Jésus was coming around the corner as I finished putting up the barrier, but he didn’t seem to notice me.

He had been unusually agitated earlier this morning. It seems his mood hadn’t improved as he wandered around the yard anxiously.  There was something that glimmered in his hand. Why was he carrying a piece of broken glass?

            “No! They have been moved! Who moved these stones?” He shouted to no one in particular. “He will escape!” I watched him frantically pick up one of the stones, moving it to one with a similar character. “No, this isn’t correct. Where does this one go?”

            Slowly approaching him, I placed a hand on his shoulder. “What are you talking about? What stones are you referring to and why are they important? What do they signify?”

He was clutching the shard of glass too tightly, but he didn’t seem to notice. Blood ran from his hand and down his arm. A few drops of blood landed on the ground near the largest stone. From it, there was a human-like mist that began rising from the ground. There was a large crack followed by ghostly wails coming from the basement.

            “Those dead here may not be so dead after all,” Jésus whispered in horror as more mist rolled through the ground. “The veil between the living and the dead has been weakened. I must leave here. It’s too late for any of us.” He took off running from the yard and disappeared into the woods. A few moments later, I heard a distant scream.

“The portal to Hell has opened up! The time is drawing near to show these traitors what it is like to be cast into Hell!” I removed the mirror from my pocket. He was looking at me with a large grin on his face. “Thatcher Borne is bent on revenge. He’ll find a way back to this world,” He continued. “From time to time, the veil of death will descend upon this house and all within will be shrouded in the quiet of the grave.”

Two spirits materialized before us. The shorter of the two spirits looked eerily like Father. “Papa? Is that you? What’s going on?”

“I am not your father. I am your great-great-great grandfather, Batcher.” I took note of his tall companion. Even as an apparition, he didn’t look healthy. His aura had a sickly green hue, and I could see a bullet wound in his chest. “This is my brother Thatcher. It is him you have summoned to help.”

Upon hearing his name, I remembered the silver bells I discovered years before. The initials ‘T.B’ were inscribed on them. I had carried those bells on me for luck. I held them up to show him and asked if they were his.

“You have found them! I thought they were lost forever. It’s wonderful to see they are back in the family after all this time.” All I could do was smile and nod. This was reassuring to know that an old family heirloom was back in the right hands. I would keep them safe until the day I died.

The house began to distort inward as though something in trying to swallow it underground. The mirror flickered and I saw Jonathan, Hazel and Louise. Jonathan was trying to get the door open as Thatcher appeared. His mad cackle filled the air and scared them as far from him as they could in the small space. He started a chant in a strange tongue and more mist started pouring out of the walls. It was a frighteningly beautiful scene. So many spirits who took residence in this place start rushing out in a fit of madness. 

“See that little girl?” Batcher pointed to a girl in a pale blue gown. Her long black hair tied back in a ribbon, and she was carrying a teddy bear speckled with blood. She had a sad smile on her face as she floated by. “That’s your aunt Jenni.”

“I didn’t know my father had a sister. But he didn’t tell us a lot about his past either. He said it was too harrowing and felt those memories should remain there.” 

Another figure glided past and I had to do a double take. He looked just like my brother Roy when he was younger aside from a horrific gash that went across his neck.

“That is my grandson Baxter. He died shortly after your grandfather was born. Horrible tragedy. He had a promising future ahead of him. But no matter. He is here to help you as well.”

A loud explosion went off near the cellar door. I saw a bright light shoot toward the sky as I saw Louise rush out into the yard, Hazel and Jonathan right behind. Jonathan was putting something back into a leather sheath. I knew right away it was the Helm. It had granted him a positive outcome instead of misfortune.

“Destroy it.” He snarled and I felt the mirror shake. “Get the Helm and destroy it. We can’t have another opportunity like this present itself.”

I saw Thatcher’s apparition fly from the cellar. He looked enraged as he chanted another phrase. Black mist appeared and transformed into faceless apparitions. They looked menacing as their eyes opened, revealing nothing but white with small red pupils.

“Strike them down. They are the enemy.” Thatcher hissed. The black apparitions rushed past me and toward Louise. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but Jonathan managed to successfully block them before they could harm her. 

But he wasn’t quick enough. Another spirit flew by and scratched his arm. He screamed in agony, clutching his arm. Louise grabbed the harpoon he dropped and attempted to protect him and Hazel. She happened to see me in that moment.

“Stacey! Please make this stop!” It was satisfying hearing Louise beg for her life. “If this is about what happened –”

“Louise, watch it!” Jonathan jerked her back before one of the spirits touched her. “Don’t let them touch you. They seem to have a substance they release off their forms. It’ll burn your skin damn near to the bone.”

“Talk about an unfair advantage! The mist can harm us but we can’t do anything about them?” Louise glared at me. Her eyes were filled with animosity. “You! Who did you consult with? Why is there a giant hole in the cellar? What sick act are you trying to accomplish?”

“That’s enough!” Hazel cried. “Stacey. I know you’ve been through a lot. I don’t know what’s going on, but please make this stop. Can’t we talk about this without resulting to fighting and bloodshed?”

I could hear Him laugh at her statement. They must have heard Him as they looked around to find the source. “She’s trying to get you to back down. I thought she was your friend. But it seems she’s agreeing with that traitor! Would you really feel so bad if she were to be sacrificed as well for a greater cause?” 

There was a groaning sound coming from the cellar. The four of us watched as the house started collapsing inside a large sinkhole. It was continuing to grow in size. I started to back away, afraid it was going to consume me. I heard whispering behind me and saw my ancestors staring at the chasm. Suddenly their whispers ceased and the hole stopped growing.

            “With this incantation, we can make the portal larger until it completely swallows the house. But this can’t be done all at once. We are bound by strict limitations,” said Thatcher. “We need this portal to remain open. Those traitors are going to try and destroy it. If they succeed, they will ruin everything He’s accomplished.”

            “However, if you are able to sacrifice them into the portal, it will go faster.” Baxter commented. “The sooner they die, the sooner everything will come together. He will be free and you will reap from the benefits.”

            There was a part of me that felt uneasy about all of this. Hazel and Jonathan didn’t deserve this, and it was wrong of me to keep moving forward. I knew He was something I should not anger. But the other part of me that enjoyed seeing the chaos and destruction. Even though it was petty, getting to see Louise suffer made this all the more gratifying.

            “Stacey!” I knew it was Hazel. She sounded desperate. “I don’t know how you got involved with all of this. Whether you are the source or an unwilling victim to this, we can help you. Please make this portal banish.”

            My eyes started to fill with tears. She was trying to undermine me. She was trying to get me to cave. I wouldn’t back down so easily.

            “I’m sorry Hazel. But this has to happen. There are great things in store if He is released from His prison.”

            Hazel’s eyes widened. “Is this Crebraal’s doing? How did he manage to escape?”

            I shook my head at her. “This isn’t that foolish imp’s doing. This is something much greater than any of us can imagine. He has shown me many things. He has told me many things. It may hurt now, but there are great things in store in the future if He is set free from His prison.”

            “Who is He? I don’t understand!”

            A mocking laugh escaped my lips. “No, you don’t understand. Again, I’m sorry Hazel. But don’t try and stop this. Don’t fight it. Just let this happen.”

            Her face fell for a second before turning around to grab the leather sheath from Jonathan.

“I need to consult the Helm! It could be the only way to stop the portal to Hell from being opened!”  Hazel took the shard of glass and sliced her finger. A spot of blood fell onto the center of the Helm as the red crest filled another empty space.

Instead of providing direction for my friend; something had gone wrong, and the Helm had other plans. As I saw Hazel raise the sickle, she rushed for me. I saw Thatcher utter something and a sharp fragment from the house came hurling toward her. I screamed for her to stop but it was too late. The fragment went clean through her neck, and she dropped to the ground in a lifeless heap.

            I became overwhelmed with emotions. Going from shock at what had just transpired to anger at why she would attack me. I finally settled on a numbing sadness at the fact she was dead. She had died trying to close the portal. She had died trying to stop me. I backed away from her body and wiped away the tears that were streaming down my face.

            More whispers were heard as my ancestors expanded the chasm and another section of the house fell into the portal.  I saw Thatcher turn his head to look at Hazel’s body and watched as her body began to float toward the opening.

            “STOP!” I screamed at him. Her body fell to the ground as he looked at me. His eyes were mixed with confusion and ire.  “Please. We need to open this portal, but please leave her body be. Please don’t sacrifice her. The only one I want to see sacrificed is Louise.”

            Thatcher only nodded as he turned away to look at the remaining survivors. Jonathan had managed to grab his harpoon and was getting ready to shoot. Louise was staring at me with disgust.

“I will do all I can to avenge you Hazel,” Louise muttered under her breath. “Jonathan! Get me the Helm!”

“Are you insane!?” He shouted. “You did see what happened to Hazel, right?” We both need to survive to stop this portal from opening up!”

“There’s no other choice! I’ll take the risk if it means closing this damn portal!” Louise grabbed the tip of his harpoon, made a small nick on her finger and pressed down onto her family’s emerald crest. Another spot filled on the Helm. She could feel her energy being restored and she felt refreshed. She saw her more severe wounds get smaller in appearance, and a few disappeared completely.

            “You know,” I heard Him chuckle. I took the mirror out. “If it wasn’t for your dear Jeremie, I would have been released so much sooner. But he had to ruin it by getting Louise pregnant.”

            He must have seen my puzzled expression. “All I needed was a Borne sacrifice to complete my emancipation. I already had someone from the Sterling and Porter bloodlines. It was too easy.”

            “You were supposed to die on the same day as Jeremie Rosenthal. Margaret Watson didn’t shoot herself. Timothy Porter did not die in that mining accident. Jeremie certainly didn’t hang himself. They all died because I made it so. Humans are such weak-minded creatures.”

            I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Their lives were ended prematurely, but why? There were many unanswered questions I had. Then again, I wasn’t sure I really wanted the answers.

“But that fool. I don’t know how he knew, if he did at all. It could have been a coincidence. Jeremie Rosenthal could have chosen a much better plan of action to keep you away that day.”

            I threw the mirror away from me. “It was YOU who killed him?!” My screams of agony filled the air. “I want nothing more to do with you!”

            “Stacey!” Thatcher hissed. “Don’t let those fools get the mirror! They will destroy it, ruining all this progress! Don’t be selfish.”

            “Louise!” I heard Jonathan yell. “That mirror! This is our chance to destroy it! Grab it! Quick!”

I saw Louise racing toward the discarded mirror. “What are you doing Stacey? Pick. It. Up!” He barked. “Louise Porter will destroy it! You will die if she succeeds!”

I snapped out of my daze and ran toward it. However, Louise got to it before I did. She brought her sickle onto the mirror and smashed it into hundreds of broken pieces. The apparitions of my ancestors screamed in agony and started to fade away.

“What have you done?!” I screamed at Louise as I rushed to gather up all the pieces. Maybe it wasn’t too late to put it back together.  I failed to see a rock as I going to grab another fragment near the opening of the portal. I tripped forward and fell into the opening. In the corner of my eye, I saw Jonathan attempt to grab my hand but it was too late.

This was the perfect punishment. For trying to allow Him to ascend. If I had known He was behind this, I would have put a stop to it before it got out of hand. Hazel wouldn’t have had to die. But maybe this was supposed to happen. Maybe this is how she was supposed to depart from life. I’ll never know. Eli’s amulet slipped out of my pocket and started crumbling rapidly. A horrid scream came from the jewel as it disappeared completely.

“A door between realms has been opened. The first lock is broken, and He is almost awake. See you soon, Stacey.” An enigmatic voice came from within the chasm.

I could feel my body start to disintegrate; ashy fragments fluttering into the air. It didn’t hurt; it was a peaceful sensation. Peace was something I had not felt in a long time. Is this what it felt like to die? There was a part of me that wished it could have departed this life sooner. But whether I liked it or not, we all have a plan made for us. We have no control over what happens or how it happens. The final page had been written for me and I’m finally at peace.

Betrayal Legacy: Chapter 4

Winter, 1797

The sound of creaking floorboards. The screams of a badly disfigured puppet. There were hundreds of hideously misshapen dolls running at me; their black eyes filled with bloodlust. Before they could tear me apart, I jolted awake. Quickly scanning the room, I realized I was alone. There were no mutilated dolls or disfigured puppet.  

“Just a nightmare,” I said. “Another sleepless night.”  I thought I would have gotten use to them by now but they continued to haunt me.

The events of that night were not what they seemed. It’s been over three decades, but it felt like it was yesterday. Henry and I had been escorting Juniper and her siblings back to their home after their father’s funeral. The cellar door was open; however, Juniper was dismissive about it. Something didn’t seem right about this so I decided to investigate. What I found down there was grisly: Jenni’s body in the cellar, a claw hammer embedded in her head. Someone had murdered her while we were at the Rosenthal funeral. Who would kill an innocent girl?

            I found her sister in the corner curled up and shaking. I carried her out of the cellar away from the carnage. I informed Henry of the situation. He told me that he was going to alert Mary Borne. He borrowed a horse from the barn and hastily rode away with the girl. I walked calmly into the house and went to check on Juniper. Her sister told me she was already asleep.

Henry came back with some constables and Mrs. Borne. She was heartbroken upon seeing her daughter. Jenni’s body was taken back into Norwich for burial preparation. Mary, Henry and I had decided not to inform Juniper immediately as we feared telling her would cause her to go mad.

 A few days later Henry and I showed up at the Rosenthal homestead per Juniper’s request. When we walked inside, we were surprised to see Jenni. She didn’t look any different compared to when she was alive.  She had placed a finger over her lips as Juniper was packing up for our ritual. She had told us we were about to unlock the Helm as it was time.

Shortly after we completed the ceremony, Tucker attacked us. At that time, I didn’t know it was him. Maybe things would have gone differently if I knew this information. It was apparent Juniper was the intended target as the black fog he released only surrounded her.  It nearly killed her. She has asked me to fill in the pieces as she only remembered fragments.

Before Tucker tried to kill us, he had placed a charm on the Rosenthal house. To cause confusion and panic. He made us think there were hundreds of broken dolls chasing us, but it was not real. The ghost of Jenni Borne became corrupt by His influence, and there was nothing we could do to bring her back. Henry meant well, but he did more harm than good. By recreating her murder, he made sure Jenni’s soul would be attached to this house forever.  There are times I can still sense her presence.

I came to own the house a few months after the attack. Juniper didn’t feel safe living there and stayed with relatives in Norwich. None of her siblings were old enough to take ownership of the deed. I made an arrangement with Juniper’s brother Jerome that when he turned 18 or got married, I would sign the deed back over to him.  When the time came, he stated he was no longer interested in owning the house as he had made a name for himself as a blacksmith in Thamesville. He made me proprietor to the house.

There was plenty of work before my family and I could settle there. It needed to be completely reconstructed and with stronger materials. When my brother Cyrus came to help, it was shocking to see the house hadn’t fallen into disrepair years before as there was so much rotten wood. It took us two years to finish, but I was happy with the final result.

After what happened, I don’t sleep much. Because of this, I resigned as Norwich’s medic. Instead, my time has been devoted to studying the rune stones and all occult tomes available. I noticed that the voices from under the house have been intensifying. There’s something below the earth…something awful. It’s growing stronger, and time was running out to keep Him sealed.

In a desperate attempt to delay the inevitable, I bought a talisman in town today: an amulet. I had read they were a way to ward off evil. But it was only temporary. The shop keeper was surprised when I purchased it. He probably thinks me as superstitious. But he doesn’t live in this house. He doesn’t hear the terrifying voices that come from below. When I started hearing these voices, my hallucinations amplified. I needed to try anything to alleviate the circumstances.

When I arrived home, my son-in-law informed me of a collapse while building the new cellar. Thirteen workers died in the accident. My nephew Daniel and Henry’s son Oliver were two of the casualties. When their bodies were recovered, all of the victims’ eyes were wide open. It was concerning to say in the least. No one else seemed to notice. But I had a hunch it had something to do with what was going on underground. I wonder if they saw IT.

It seems the families that have history with this house each lost someone today. Henry and Juniper would visit me often, as if drawn to this place. Over the generations, we’ve grown close despite the stories of what has happened. After Jenni died, we became friends with her brother Martin and his family. Sadly, he was another victim along with Juniper’s cousin Jedidiah. Martin’s daughter Stacey had been at the house when we were informed. She was devastated and rushed home to notify her family.

A few days later, we were gathered for a mass funeral for the dead workers. Not our first funeral and something tells me it wouldn’t be the last. It was hard losing loved ones, but no one had it as hard as Stacey did. Her mother Emilia hung herself shortly after being told her husband was dead.  As Stacey walked to the cemetery, she was accompanied by her three younger siblings. I saw Mrs. Smythe ask her something in a hushed whisper.

“She’s killed herself! That’s why she isn’t here!” It fell silent as everyone turned to see who said such a ghastly comment. Stacey ran out the cemetery, tears in her eyes as she rushed past me.

“Someone should really go check on her,” Hazel tugged at my sleeve. “No one should have to be alone to cry. It’s so sad.”

I knelt down, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You’re right, my dear. But she’s been through a lot and needs to allow herself to grieve in her own way. I’ll go check on her in a few moments. Does that sound good?”

My daughter flashed a smile and hugged me. In the corner of my eye, I saw Juniper walking our way. She looked worn-down. “Here we are again.”

I chuckled darkly. “I couldn’t agree with you more. How’s Henry been with all of this? I haven’t been able to check in on him or his family due to everything going on at once.”

“He’s been coping as best as he can. I can’t imagine losing a child and a grandchild. I mean, his health has already been on the decline, but this couldn’t have made anything easier,” whispered Juniper.

My eyes widened at her comment. “David’s oldest was killed too? Shit, I did not know. How awful.” To lose one of your children AND a grandchild? The very thought of losing a child was unbearable. It wasn’t as though it was uncommon, but it still wasn’t easy to deal with when it happened.

Stacey came to rejoin her siblings about 10 minutes later. They made their way to the front of the crowd and stood next to Hazel and I. My daughter reached out to give Stacey’s hand a gentle squeeze of reassurance. A ghost of a smile appeared on her lips at this simple gesture. Roughly 10 people down from us, Henry was staring down in the grave his son was being lowered into. He looked defeated and broken. We exchanged a nod of acknowledgment before he turned his attention back to the grave.

The rest of the day went by in a blur. We have never lost so many people in one day. It definitely shook the town, and there was an uneasy feeling that lingered. How the accident occurred is still a mystery, and those who had been investigating were getting frustrated with the lack of clues or information. There were no one around who saw it happen and anyone who was there were all buried six feet under.  I had invited the Porter family and Juniper to the house. Hazel wanted me to invite the Borne’s, but they left shortly after the service concluded.

“She must have gone home to take care of her siblings. She’ll probably come over tomorrow to help your sister and the baby,” I said.

Hazel’s eyes lit up. “I hope so!” She hugged me and ran to the carriage. Our housemaid, Matilda, helped her climb up.  She gave a small wave and flashed me a rueful smile.

The woman has been such a blessing. Poor girl had been close to death’s door when I found her. “Been in the country but a few months now. I had heard there were opportunities here in Norwich, so I came here straightaway.” She had told me she was grateful to me for giving her a chance. She also said it was good, honest work that left her feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

            “Hope all went fine at the service. Well…I mean as fine as something like this could go. It’s a horrible tragedy,” Matilda said as I stepped into the carriage.

            “I couldn’t agree more, dear. How’s the new farmhand been? He’s getting things figured out, I assume?” I asked her.

            “He’s already finished feeding the livestock and was in the process of collecting wood to get a fire going before you got home,” Matilda replied.

Daniel had been my farmhand. A couple days after the accident, I had been recommended a fellow by the name of Tucker Clarke. Turns out he was new to Norwich and skilled at what he did. He seemed eager when I asked him if he wanted the job. When he said he couldn’t start until today, I said it was fine with me as long as he arrived bright and early. I had asked him why he seemed fervent to work for me as it was our first time meeting.

            “Somethin’ ‘bout this house just kinda spoke to me. It’s like I’ve been here before. I know it sounds uneducated of me, but it’s the truth. Swear on me mom and dad’s plots.” He ran his hand through his hair, embarrassed. “I do all I can ‘round the place. But I should warn you: my right hand has always been a little bit off, but I get by okay.” I informed him that it wouldn’t be an issue as long as he was able to keep up.

            “That is mighty thoughtful of him. I’ll have him stay the night tonight. Heard there was a nasty storm coming and don’t want nothing to happen to him.”

            Matilda smiled at my comment. “Dr. Sterling, how considerate of you! But then again, you’re the most compassionate person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. There should be more than enough food for an extra mouth at the table.”

            We arrived home as the snow started to fall. It was no surprise that Juniper was already here. She was helping Margaret getting dinner ready.

            “You don’t need to do that Juniper! You’re my guest. Besides, it’s been a long day. I’ll have Matilda fetch you some tea.” I tried ushering her into the sitting room, but she pulled away and continued to chop vegetables.

            “I don’t mind Ellis. It’s a needed distraction,” she replied. “Let me do this.” She smiled at me, but I could tell it was forced. I decided to drop the subject and gave Margaret a hug.

            “Where’s your brother? He was supposed to be assisting Tucker,” I inquired. I hadn’t seen my son Jasper since Hazel and I left for the memorial services.

            Margaret shrugged. “I’m not sure where he is, Father. Probably off galivanting with his friends getting drunk off of absinthe.”

            Before I could scold her, there was a knock at the door. When I went to open it, I saw Henry standing there. He still looked somber, but appeared to have gained some color back in his face. He hurriedly made his way to the fire.

            “Thank you, Ellis. David insisted I shouldn’t have travelled due to the pending storm, but he doesn’t understand. I needed to come here. I can’t explain why, but I just needed to come here.”

            “Don’t be too harsh on him. He worries about you and just wants to make sure you’re using your head. But you’ve always marched to the beat of your drum, haven’t you?”

            I heard a chuckle from the sitting room entryway. “You’ve always been a stubborn old mule.” Juniper winked at him as she sat next to me. “It might sound ridiculous, but I also feel that we all need to be here tonight. I even have the family sickle just in case.”  She laughed humorlessly. “Can never be too sure with this place.”

            “Would have to agree with you,” said Henry.  “Something tells me we’re not done with tragedy and mourning for today. On my way here, I saw a strange glow coming from where the Hanging Tree is.”

            This caught my attention. Before going to bed last night, I saw a bright light from the same area, but wrote it off as fatigue. But now that Henry saw something, this might be worth investigating.

“I didn’t think too much of it,” Henry continued, “until I heard a strange tittering. When I got closer, the glow disappeared. Granted I was curious, but thought better. The snow was starting to pick up anyway.”

            “Now that you mention it, I saw a light coming from that area last night. But didn’t think much of it as I’ve been exhausted lately what with repairing the barn, finalizing burial preparations for Daniel and assisting with my granddaughter. But now that you’ve seen something, this could be worth checking out.”

            “I just hope it’s not a trap,” commented Juniper. “I wouldn’t want to have another incident like what happened in the woods all those years ago.” I saw her clutch her knapsack closer.  Dropping my voice to a hushed whisper, I asked if she had the Helm with her. She nodded, and I felt a chill run through my body. I started to shake despite standing next to the fire.

“We will discuss this in a more private setting,” I turned my eyes toward Matilda, who was refilling our tea cups. “First, let me check on Hazel.”

I made my way upstairs to my daughter’s room. Turns out the poor girl was worn out for the day as I found her asleep with her back pressed against the bedframe. I gently picked her up and laid her in bed. Making my way back downstairs, Matilda informed me that Stacey was at the door and it seemed urgent.

            “I’m so sorry Dr. Sterling,” Stacey sobbed as I ushered her in. “But I couldn’t keep this secret any longer. It’s eating away at me, and I felt it was the right thing to do.” I heard her gasp fearfully as she stared in the corner behind me.

            “Stacey, what is it? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.” I turned around to see what could have scared her, but didn’t see anything. I dismissed her odd behavior as exhaustion and led her into the dining room. “I’ll have Matilda fetch you some tea to help warm you up. I’ll be right back.”

            When I entered the sitting room, Henry and Juniper were staring at me with troubled expressions. “The Borne girl is here, isn’t she?” Henry asked.

Juniper stood up quickly. “Something is definitely going on. No responsible girl such as herself would leave her siblings in the dead of night unless it was something serious.” She rushed to Stacey and started talking in lowered voices.

            Matilda informed me she was done with her tasks. I told her she was welcome to stay in the guest quarters for the night. “No sense in trying to risk your life in this storm.”

She smiled at me, thanking me for the offer. “Dr. Sterling, I wanted to let you know something. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I haven’t seen Tucker leave the barn in some time. He had mentioned he needed to check on the animals before coming in. But it shouldn’t take this long, right?”

            I did take note of Tucker’s absence. Even with his lame hand, he should have been done by now.  Strangely enough, my son was absent from dinner, and he was never late for a meal. I reassured Matilda that I would go check on them and made sure they got food. She yawned and made her way upstairs to get ready for bed.

After giving Henry a short summary of the situation, we headed outside to the barn. The large doors were slightly open which wasn’t unusual. The horses seemed to be fine as they whinnied at my appearance. I should have been able to see or at least hear Tucker, but it was too quiet.

            “Hey Tucker, you in here?” I called out. No response. I shined my lantern around to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. I saw something move in a pile of straw to my right. When I directed my light that way, I could see it was Jasper trying to hide. “Jasper, what are you doing?”

            “Father?” He slowly rose from the straw. He was drenched in sweat and was shaking violently. “Some-something a-a-attacked Tucker. I-I’m s-s-sorry I w-was a c-c-coward!” He stuttered as he glanced around the room.

            I gripped his shoulders. “What are you talking about? Where’s Tucker?” I heard him gulp as he stared intensely at something from behind me. When I turned to see what he was looking at, there wasn’t anything there. 

            “What is it? Answer me boy!” Jasper started shaking again as he slowly pointed his finger toward the hayloft. When I looked up, I saw a gruesome scene. Hanging up there with his throat slit open and his arms missing was my farmhand.

            “What the hell?” I heard Henry mutter as he turned his attention to my son. “Why were you hiding, boy? That seems awfully suspicious…”

            I was incredulous. “How dare you accuse my son! Can’t you see the poor boy is frightened?” I could feel the anger welling up inside me. Who did Henry Porter think he was making such an allegation?

            “Come on Ellis. There was no one else out here! Let me guess…Mr. Clarke cut off his own arms, slit his throat and managed to hang himself?” Henry scoffed.

            “B-but it wasn’t m-me! I-It was s-some sort of c-creature!” Jasper cried. “It was m-maybe three feet tall. S-short and s-scaley.” He took a deep breath, trying to compose himself. “Its claws were long, its eyes glowed red. But its laugh was disturbing. It still sends chills through my body.”

            I was in astonishment. This sounded insane and while my son was not the most well-behaved young man, one trait I admired about him was that he didn’t lie. It was as though he had the inability to lie about anything.

            “No such creature like that exists!” Henry snapped at him. “Stop lying boy and tell us what happened!”

            “But Mr. Porter, I am telling the truth! It looked like a troll or a small gremlin. I swear to you that’s what killed Mr. Clarke!” Jasper turned to me, his eyes pleading. “I know it sounds crazy, but Father…I didn’t kill Mr. Clarke. That thing popped into here with its unsettling laugh and attacked Tucker.” 

            As he was speaking, I took note of his appearance. He didn’t have any blood splattered on him or his clothing. He appeared to have his dagger in its sheath. There were even a few scratches on his arms as if trying to fight off an attack. If he were guilty, he would have tried to hide his soiled clothes; his dagger would have been out and stained. There were other factors to consider, but I knew my son was telling the truth. The air was suddenly filled with a high-pitched giggle. It almost sounded like a small child’s laughter. I looked around the barn, I couldn’t find the source. My skin started to crawl.

            “Show yourself! We’re not interested in playing games!” Henry yelled, drawing his pistol. There was another short snicker before a faint popping sound was heard. I watched Henry make his way to the ladder leading to the hay loft.

            I told my son to watch guard over his sisters and Matilda. I didn’t know what we were up against, but I wasn’t about to put my family further into harm’s way. As he ran to the house as I went after Henry. Once I reached him, I saw it. Written in fresh blood on the wall next to Tucker’s hanging body was the message:

The collapse in the cellar was no accident. Some sort of creature lives hidden in the eaves. This is bad enough, but worse, there is someone in alliance with it.

Henry was shaking. One look at his face told anyone that he was enraged. “My son…my grandson.” He said with a low growl, his teeth clenched. He finally turned his gaze to me and I could see the fury in his eyes. “They were murdered. They were MURDERED! When I find out who did this…” He swiftly made his way to the ladder and climbed down.

            “Henry! Stop!” I hurried after him. “We don’t even know who or what we’re looking for!”  Henry always had a bit of a temper, and I understood the feeling he was having. I was feeling a bit enraged myself, but we needed to approach this rationally. “Henry! I know you’re angry, but not is now the time to lose our temper. We need to develop a plan to – “ 

            A female scream from inside the house cut me off. Henry and I took one look at each other. We had heard this scream before many years ago.

“Juniper.” We raced into the house. There was a second female scream. It was distinctly different than the first. But this wasn’t a scream of pain; it was out of terror.

“What the fuck?” I heard Henry gasp. Lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the room was Juniper’s mutilated body. Standing near the body and holding Juniper’s sickle was Stacey. Her dress was coated in blood. Her expression was a mixture of terror and disbelief.

“Juniper? Oh my God!” The sickle fell from her hands as they flew to her mouth. Stacey started to tremble violently as she backed away from the scene in front on her. “No, no, no, no, no!”

A disturbing giggle filled the room, followed by the same pop sound I heard in the barn. A short, ugly creature stood next to Stacey. It looked just like the thing Jasper had described to me. It had a large grin on its face, its eyes taking a couple seconds to glance at each of us before settling Stacey.

“What is the meaning of this? Who are you?” I questioned.

The creature giggled again. “I am Crebraal, and I am here to make your life a living hell.” Its voice was raspy and deep. “Sometimes, you take a gamble to try and better your situation. Ms. Borne was desperate and has signed a contract with me in order to make her life less painful to endure.” Stacey looked remorseful, refusing to look at Henry or me.  “Sometimes, we have to do horrible things to accomplish bigger ambitions. Sometimes, blood needs to be spilled.”

Even though we didn’t see her commit this heinous crime, it seemed that Stacey is colluding with this otherworldly being. But we need proof. This is a place of laws after all. It just wouldn’t be right to hang someone without first proving them guilty. We will need to gather evidence and then we can deliver justice. We would need to be careful when looking for evidence. I really didn’t want to believe that Stacey could have done something so gruesome. However, she was next to Juniper’s body and covered in her blood. She was holding that bloody sickle. That alone screamed her guilt.

“I had lost hope and was despondent. Father dying in that accident…Mother killing herself. It was too much.” Stacey stopped to wipe her tears away and composed herself. “But I met Crebraal the day of the funerals. It saw me crying and said to not be afraid. That it could help me with all of my troubles. As long as I made a deal with it, it would do anything I asked. True to its word, it turned out to be very helpful. It was do the chores I couldn’t get to, find lost items and make us delicious bowls of soup. I really didn’t think there’d be a price.”

“Of course, nothing comes for free, my dear,” Crebraal laughed.

“Gradually, it started making demands of its own. I must be rid of it!” Stacey screamed. “I get it. If I was in your position, I would scream murderer. But I swear on the graves of my parents that I am not responsible. I did not kill Juniper!”

Crebraal laughed at her. “All your begging and pleading is for nothing. I intend to collect on what is rightfully mine.” It pulled out a small bottle with shining blue liquid. “May as well give yourself up. Unless you want something to happen to those brats.” It then turned its attention to me. “You know she’s guilty of murder. She’s the one covered in blood. She’s the one holding the murder weapon. Just allow me to take her off your hands and you’ll never see me again.”

            Henry scoffed. “I don’t believe your claim for a second. The girl can’t even handle cutting her finger. She wouldn’t be capable of murdering someone, let alone so gruesomely.”

            The thing chuckled again before disappearing. “Fine, we’ll play it your way. But I must tend to another matter. I’ll be back for the girl in two hours. Keep me waiting and there will a consequence to pay.”

            We decided it would be best to clean up and move Juniper’s body into the cold cellar. It would be all right down there until we had time to get her prepped and buried. I didn’t think I would have to be doing this again, but life can be pretty macabre and cruel. When we were finished, Henry saw the satchel that contained the Helm. He carefully picked it up and placed it inside his own. We would figure out what to do with it later. We had more pressing issues at the moment.

 “Before I knew what had happened to her,” Stacey spoke softly, staring at the spot Juniper’s body had been moments ago. “That thing was making a commotion in the kitchen. It was trying to break that amulet of yours, Ellis. But it didn’t have much success. Crebraal became enraged and popped away. I wonder why it was trying to break a piece of jewelry. It doesn’t make sense.”

“It was a purchase from a few days ago.  I read that certain types of relics help ward off evil. The nightmares have been getting worse. Even Hazel has started complaining about hearing voices. It’s one thing to mess with my head, but it’s another thing to mess with my daughter’s.”

An idea crossed my mind. I wonder if I could use the Helm to help provide some guidance as to what we needed to do with Crebraal. But the idea quickly flitted as we didn’t have a member of the Rosenthal family here to help unlock its magical properties. I did remember that specific detail about needing one member of each family to be present. However, I had another thought.

“Henry. I think we need to use the Helm and ask for its guidance regarding this imp situation.” He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “Yes, I know we don’t have a member of the Rosenthal family here, but if memory serves me well, it never said that we all needed to be alive to consult it.” Henry and Stacey’s eyes widened at what I was about to suggest.

“Ellis! That’s so immoral!” Stacey retorted.

“I didn’t say it would be pleasant, but we’re running out of options here!”  I know it wasn’t ideal. I was disgusted with the notion. But like I said, we were running out of choices.

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t work…as morbid as it sounds, anything is worth a shot.” Henry stood up, making his way back to the cellar. “Are you two coming? Like you said, Ellis…we need to try anything to destroy that bastard.”

Turning to Stacey, I could see she was disgusted, but proceeded to follow me as I ventured into the cellar. Pulling a small table near Juniper’s body, Henry carefully drew the fragment of armor from its sheath and set it down. Taking out my hunting knife, I cut my finger slightly. A small drop of blood surfaced, and I went to lightly press on my family’s crest in the center. The Helm flickered a flash of scarlet light, and I could see my crest appear in one of the empty notches that encompassed the center.

“It did work…” Henry whispered in awe. “As long as we have a member of each family here, it doesn’t matter if they’re alive or not. Our future relatives may need to take this into consideration for future usages.”

“If it really comes to that. I hope we never have to use this relic again. I have a bad feeling about it,” Stacey commented.

Without warning, I saw one of my tomes materialize into my thoughts. It was one of the few I hadn’t fully studied. Was this the work of the Helm? I was going to take that chance.

“I believe the Helm has provided me counsel in what we need to do next,” I spoke.

We said the closing prayer and meticulously laid the Helm back into the protective casing. Henry placed it back in his satchel as we went back upstairs. I pulled the book from my vision off the shelf and started flipping pages.

            “There had to be a reason why this book appeared in my mind. What is it I’m looking for?” I said quietly.

I paused when I heard an unusual sound coming from the kitchen. I asked Henry to check it out. A few minutes later, he came back into the room, the amulet in his hand. “Found this lying on the floor. Felt it was a good idea to bring it here in case we may need it.” He placed it on my desk.

As I was about to flip to the next page, the word ‘imp’ caught my attention.  “I think I found what we’re looking for.” I pointed to my find: The Imprisonment Spell. It dealt specifically with ridding kitsunes, dark elves, selkies and imps. We may have finally had a stroke of luck.

“In order to successfully complete this spell, we needed to have two items that are heirlooms of the prey, a small vial of their blood and a small vial of the creature’s lifeforce. We would also need something called The Talisman of Chaos in our possession.”

It seemed too good to be true: The Talisman of Chaos in the book looked just like the amulet sitting on my desk. “This would need to be completed within 20 hours of signing the contract with the entity in question. It says here the imp can’t do anything to its prey until that time comes.”

“Stacey, do you happen to have anything that would be considered an heirloom?” Henry asked. “If so, would you happen to know where those items are located?”

“I know Dad has this map that my Grandpa Borne had designed. I couldn’t tell you what its specificity is, but Dad kept it safeguarded and wouldn’t allow any of his children to look at or touch it. I happen to have it on me. I was going to ask my cousin Andrew and see if he had any information about it. Turns out he’s away for a few weeks.” She carefully pulled it from her knapsack and handed it to Henry.

  “This is a good start. This would definitely be classified as a family heirloom. Do you happen to know of anything else?”

She shook her head. “I can’t think of anything. However, I did find a pair of silver bells on my way here. When I examined them, I noticed my family insignia. It had the initials “T.B.” on them. I’m not sure who that is. Maybe it’s someone from my family lineage? It wouldn’t hurt to consider this as an “valuable” item.” Stacey pulled them from her bag and handed them to him.

For the next step, I asked Henry to keep Stacey distracted while I took some blood out of her arm. It went smoother than I thought. We only had one step left.  

“We will need to get some of that bastard’s blood as well.” Henry smirked as I could see he was formulating a plan.

Crebraal popped back into the room when the two hours had passed. It had the vial of blue liquid out and was watching the three of us carefully.  “Have you decided to cooperate? Stacey Borne is better off in my possession than she is being here. Or does it have to get complicated? You won’t like it if things got complicated, Ellis Sterling and Henry Porter.”

Henry got down on his knees and drew his dagger from its sheath. “Does it have to be Stacey? Wouldn’t any blood be acceptable?” He slid the blade smoothly across his forearm. “What if I choose to take her place? Would that pose a problem for you?” A thin line of blood surfaced from the wound.

The imp took its full attention to Henry and what he was doing. It licked its lips as it walked closer to him. Quietly, Stacey placed the map and silver bells on the floor in front of her. I handed her the vial containing her blood. She popped open the cork and made a small “x” next to each item.  The imp swiped its claw over Henry’s wound and sampled it.

“Humans are such intriguing creatures. Noble as your intentions are, your lifeblood just isn’t acceptable enough –”

Henry grabbed one of its arms and made a significant gash with his dagger. The creature screamed as lavender fluid gushed out. While Crebraal was distracted with tending to the injury, Henry collected enough to fill the vial I gave him, secured the top, and rolled it to Stacey. She opened it and made a second “x” over the first one. As soon as it bubbled, I handed Stacey the amulet and the inscription she needed to read.

“Aura of Soulpower! Hellfire rupture! Disrupt this wrath upon Terra! Please grant me clarity from this madness! This destructive execration! Retribution of fear! Cast Crebraal back into fire and brimstone!”

There was a gold beam that took aim toward the imp. Strange smoke billowed out of the talisman and engulfed Crebraal. Pitiful screams filled the house as it transforms to smoke itself and was sucked into the talisman. It is gone now. I could see Stacey staring into the amulet.

“I see a strange sight. It appears reality is started to weaken. There are duplicates of us inside the amulet”. She stared in fearful awe while explaining to us what she was seeing. “But things are slightly different. I can make out that instead of Juniper dying, it was Henry. I turn it over to see the same scene, except it was my body lying there.  One can almost see into other worlds, as if through an alternate looking glass. A looking glass fractured and nearly ready to shatter.”

I quickly wrote the incantation that ended the imp onto a piece of scrap paper. I handed it to Stacey. “This may be useful in the future. I feel it is best if you take possession of this amulet. Store it somewhere safe, but not anywhere you sleep.”

She looked at me confused. “Why should I be the one to keep it? If anything, shouldn’t I be the person to keep it away from?”

I shook my head. “You are the only one to hold power over that creature. Henry and I are getting older. We won’t be around much longer. I don’t wish for you to have this burden. But if we were to try and destroy it or bury it…nothing good would come from that as it could do more harm.”

Stacey nodded. She understood what needed to be done, but still appeared defeated. I knew deep down things were going to get harder before they got better. We were far from being done with whatever was going on here. But as long as we maintain our sanity and continue to make progress, we would be able to prevent more tragedy and chaos. For the first time in a long time, I felt a wave of hope run though me.

Betrayal Legacy: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Fall, 1763

It is my 17th birthday. My parents surprised me with an unusual gift: a mysterious relic my great-grandmother Jacqueline Rosenthal discovered on this land. Before it became my family’s homestead, it had belonged to the Porter family for several generations. However, something unexplained happened to its last owner. While hosting a dinner party, Abigail Porter had gone mad and murdered her guests. Wracked with guilt she killed herself. The deed was supposed to be transferred to her older brother. However, due to the events of that night, he didn’t have any desire to own the house and signed it over to my great-grandmother.

This artifact was passed down to my father: Jacques Rosenthal. It was intended to go to his father, Joseph. However, he was Jacqueline’s only child and had passed away years before. When my father turned 17, Jacqueline had requested his presence in private. She had recently moved in with my grandmother due to failing health. When he tried to open the leather casing, she scolded him. She told him that it was important to keep this safe.

“You will know when it is time to use it. But now is not that time. If that moment comes, great things can be promised to our family, but you have to respect its wishes,” she had said. He thought she was delirious, but still respected her dying wish. My great-grandmother also said it was imperative to pass the relic down to his eldest child when they turned 17 if he had not needed to call on it for guidance.

As he gifted it to me, he whispered, “You know when you will need to utilize this relic. I have come to learn of what it truly is based on Grandma’s diary. But I have never had to use it for myself. I just hope you don’t have to either, Juniper.” He looked nervous as he continued. “While powerful, it can be a dangerous thing if it falls into the wrong hands. Please keep it safe. If you don’t have to use it, it is critical that it is passed down to your firstborn when they turn 17.”

“How will I know when I need to use it? What kind of powers does this relic have? Are we in danger?” I had so many questions for him. I was uncertain if I wanted to bear this responsibility.

“My dear Juniper, do not be afraid. There’s a good chance you won’t have to use it. If I am wrong, let me know and I will bring you the old journal from Grandma Jacqueline. There are very specific instructions in there.” He gave me a hug when we heard a knock at the door. “Strange. I’m not expecting anyone today. I’ll go see who it is. You store away the relic and then help your sister get dinner ready.”

            I went upstairs to my room and stored the relic inside my storage trunk. I heard my father yelling for my brother Jerome. I hurried downstairs and saw a young man in the entry way. He was severely wounded and struggling to stand.

            “Please help. There’s someone out there…they attacked me…” He collapsed and I could see a significant amount of blood seeping through his shirt. Father insisted I get water and some bandages. When I got back, Father and Jerome were able to get him to the guest quarters. He was still unconscious. My father rushed to get his gun.

            “Jerome! Come with me outside. Juniper, tend to his injuries.” They rushed outside and I started to clean him up.

Carefully cutting his shirt open revealed a deep gash going from his shoulder blade to halfway down his spine. This didn’t look good, even from my limited knowledge.  I heard him groan in pain as he started to move. “Please don’t move You’re hurt and I need to clean the gash in your back.” His eyes slowly opened, and he looked confused.

“Where am I? Who are you?” He looked around the room. I answered that he was at the Jacques Rosenthal homestead a few miles outside of Norwich. His eyes widened at that and turned to look at me angrily.

“You mean to tell me, I’m at the very house where my aunt Abby was murdered? The Rosenthal’s have taken over this place. Tell me…what is your name, girl?”

“Juniper. Jacques is my father and my family has been here for some time.” Then the realization hit me. “Are you from the Porter family?”

He glared at me as he tried sitting up. The pain was too much for him. “Yes. I’m Henry Porter. My father was Augustus Porter, half-brother to Abigail Porter. I don’t know how your family managed to get their hands on the deed, but I’ll change that.”

I was confused by his anger. Could it be a possible concussion or was he always this unpleasant? “It’s nice to make your acquaintance, Henry. But I really think you should lay down and prevent further aggravating your injury.”

I heard the sound of rushing footsteps and saw my brother and Dr. Ellis Sterling racing into the room. I knew Dr. Sterling well, but not for good reason. He had been my mother’s primary practitioner during the final months of her life. He had completed his schooling when my mother fell ill and needed immediate care. The other medic was unavailable, but Dr. Sterling didn’t hesitate. He did everything he could and went above what any other medic would have done for a doomed patient. I almost didn’t recognize him. He had aged significantly since I last saw him two years ago.

“Where are his injuries, Juniper?” Ellis shook me lightly.

“I’m sorry Dr. Sterling. There’s a significant gash going down his back, and I fear he may have suffered a head injury.” I moved out of the way so he could get to work.

“Are Jannika and James in bed? I do not wish for them to see this,” I asked Jerome. He gave me a swift nod as he left the room. I assumed he was going to check on Father. A gunshot rang from outside. I rushed to the window and saw two figures outside, one of them lying on the ground. It was hard to make out the details, but the one standing dropped something on the ground and took off running.

“Dr. Sterling! Juniper!” I heard my brother scream. “Father’s been shot! I need help!” Before I could get up, Ellis commanded me to stay put with Henry while he went to check on the situation.  Henry had a look of concern as he watched Ellis leave the room, then he turned his attention to me.

“What did you see? Was it a tall dark figure?” He asked. My mind went blank. My father had been shot. I didn’t know how bad it was. I wanted to know, but Ellis or Jerome would tell me.

“I am sorry, Mr. Porter. I didn’t get a good look at him,” I mumbled. Tears started to form, and I wiped them away before anyone could see. Henry placed his hand on my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me. He said something, but I didn’t hear him. Who was that person? Were they the same one who injured Henry earlier? The bedroom door creaked open. Ellis stood there, blood covering his shirt and jacket.

“I’m sorry Juniper. I was able to stabilize the bleeding, but your father has lost too much blood and likely won’t survive the night.” He approached me and wrapped his arms around me in a tight embrace. “It would be wise for you and your siblings to say your last farewells before too long. I’ll come check on him here shortly. Just need to finish up with Mr. Porter.”

            I left the guest quarters in a daze as I made my way down the hall into my sister’s room. Jannika was fast asleep in her bed, my little brother James curled up next to her. It amazed me they were able to sleep through all this commotion. When I shook her awake, she could sense something was amiss. The only other time I had done this was shortly before our mother passed. It’s something that has stuck with her since that day.

            “It’s still dark outside. What’s going on Juniper?” She asked me as I gently picked up James’ sleeping form. “Did something bad happen? Where’s Jerome? Where’s Papa?”

            Putting on a brave face, I said, “Jannika. Something horrible has happened to Father. Dr. Sterling is here and has requested we go and say our goodbyes.” Watching her tear up almost broke me. But I had to be strong for her and in the days to come. Even though Jerome was younger than me, he would become head of the household. But I could provide guidance for him until he was older. I extended my free hand to my sister as we walked into Father’s room.

            He passed a few hours later as Ellis has said. After finding out what happened to my father, Mary Borne had offered her two daughters, Corina and Jenni, to come and help. Mary had been my mother’s best friend and our families relied on each other. I was grateful for her suggestion. Corina was a couple years younger than me, but she was a bit childish and whiny. I got along better with her younger sister Jenni. She was quiet but intelligent. I also teased her lovingly for having a crush on my brother Jerome.

The funeral was held the following Friday. We buried him next to Mother in town. So many people showed up to the funeral; my father was well-known for his work as a gunsmith. I saw Mr. Porter attend with his family as well as Dr. Sterling and his brother.  All I wanted to do was go home and mourn. Hopefully Corina and Jenni had dinner prepared. As my siblings and I were leaving, Henry and Ellis volunteered to walk us home and I happily obliged. When we arrived, I heard Ellis make a comment about the cellar door being open. I told him Corina and Jenni were probably down there getting food for dinner. I didn’t bother checking as all I wanted to do was change and wash up.

            That night I had a horrible dream. A large wolf was chasing me in the woods. I called for help, but no one came to my aid. I stumbled into a wooded area that look strangely familiar. There was a large tree with wisps of white smoke surrounding it. There were five ghostly figures at its base. But they didn’t scare me. One of them even looked like me. As I reached out to touch her transparent hand, the wolf broke us apart. Shining from its chest was a silver shield of armor with various colored crests on it, one of them being my own family’s violet flame. The wolf came rushing at me, and that’s when I woke up in a panic.

            I quietly got out of bed, trying not to disturb my sister and ventured into my father’s room. I went looking for the journal of my great-grandmother. Something about this dream spoke to me. It was time to use the relic. It scared me, but excited me all the same. The Rosenthal family needed some good fortune after years of calamity. It took me a while, but I was able to find it hidden under the mattress. I flipped through the log carefully and discovered that the relic was called the Helm. It had appeared after a beast called the ‘Night Mare’ was vanquished by my great-grandmother. She did it by slaying Amos Sterling, who had become influenced by members from a cult that worshipped Him. It didn’t say what they meant by Him, but I figured they weren’t talking about God. There was also a segment about finding eight rocks called the rune stones. They each had a unique symbol carved into them. They were critical when it came to completing a section on the Helm. Those would need to be located before we accessed the Helm for the first time. Fortunately, they were all located near the house itself. At least that was convenient.

There was a note written in blood at the bottom of the page: One member from each family must be present before proceeding. Next to this odd note were small drawings of four family crests, one of them being the Rosenthal crest. The others were that of the Porter’s, Sterling’s and Borne’s. There was sudden movement near the window and I nearly screamed. After taking a second glance, I saw it was Atticus. He was a stray cat my younger siblings ‘claimed’ as a pet, but I never liked him. I shooed him away, and he hissed in response before running off out of the room.

            “Father,” I said to the empty room. “I think the time is now to use this relic. I hope to not disappoint you.”

            I waited three nights before attempting the rite to reveal the Helm. According to the journal, I needed to get a member of each family listed. I recalled seeing Jenni doing chores outside as I went to town to run some errands. I went to see Dr. Sterling and briefly mentioned I needed his assistance with something at the house. He seemed more than happy to oblige. All that was left was getting a member from the Porter family. Luck seemed to be on my side. On my way home, I saw Henry checking his hunting traps.

            “Ms. Rosenthal. Hope this day is treating you well.” He seemed to be in good spirits today. “I hope you don’t mind, but I think I left one of my blades at your homestead the night I was attacked. I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Would it be all right with you if I came by later to check?”

            “That would be grand of you to do that, Mr. Porter. I apologize if this sounds peculiar, but I was about to ask you to grace me with your presence. I am having a meeting, and feel you would be a valuable contribution.” It wasn’t lying exactly, but saying the intended reason might get me locked up.

            “Not peculiar at all. I will come by tonight then.” He started walking back toward town.  Perfect. I thought. Now let’s just see what this Helm can do.

I had Jannika and James stay with the Borne’s for the night while I conducted this meeting. Mary didn’t seem to mind at all. Jerome had plans as well, so it was just Jenni and I. As we waited for Ellis and Henry, Jenni told me a disturbing story. Years ago, she had been staying with my family on account of Corina developing smallpox. Jenni was a sickly child so her parents took precaution by having her out of the house while her sister recovered.

One night, a doll had crept from under the bed and taught her a song. Singing this tune would bring other dolls out to play and as she sang, more dolls came out. She says they were up all night, playing and dancing. When it was sunrise, the dolls told her they would need to leave her, but that they would play again if she hummed the song that they taught her.

“I’m sure it was just a nightmare you had as a child. To cope with what was going on at home,” I commented. The story had unsettled me, but I felt guilty for being judgmental.

“I’m sure you’re right, Juniper. It seems silly to have a toy come to life and talk to you. That’s childish nonsense.”  There was a knock at the door and I went to answer it. Ellis and Henry had shown up together. After explaining the real reason for calling them here, they weren’t angry. In fact, both men seem intrigued and wanted to know more, especially Ellis. I guided them outside to show them the rune stones.

“They are strange things indeed. Big stones with odd carvings and appeared to be older than the house itself.” Ellis was in awe as he knelt down to examine one.

“I was able to find most of them over the last few days. They do unnerve me.” I felt a shiver run down my back. “I swear I saw one casts two shadows. Near another, I hear a baby crying. Another one I heard an old lullaby.”

“When I was a child,” said Ellis. “My father told me stories about magical items that sound just like these stones. He said my grandfather was searching for them. But something happened to him while seeking them and was never heard from again.”

“The only thing I’m wondering is where could they have come from? I have never seen such bizarre symbols. They don’t even appear to be Native American.” Henry’s comment intrigued me. The thought of them being Native American crossed my mind, but he seemed so sure they weren’t. What else could it be?

The time to uncover the Helm was approaching. I had the others follow me to the Hanging Tree. It was what my great-grandmother called the large willow in a small clearing. We gathered around the Helm. I had placed it on a dead tree trunk I was utilizing as a makeshift table. We said some prayers and chants per instructions in the journal. I felt foolish but the Helm is supposed to bring good luck, according to Jacqueline. In my mind, it was desperately needed.

“Attend to yourself.” The others hushed as I uncovered the leather casing. Inside was a fragment of silver armor. There were 24 spots with slight notches, as if to place something inside. I propped up Jacqueline’s journal so I could read properly: “We hold in our hands ‘THE HELM’. Turn your gaze from everything surrounding us and look to the Helm. Even with the most cursory self-observation, we perceive the Helm to be an ancient and powerful device, which must be treated with respect. We must never touch the Helm unless one of us is directed to. We must never allow other objects to cover the Helm, unless being stored after consulting. To disrespect the Helm is to invite misfortune on us or our families. To honor the Helm will bring good luck.” 

I motioned for the others to pick up a side and lift it above the fire. This next step was critical as I would go on to explain. “If one of us needs to utilize the Helm, a member from each family must be present before proceeding. Remember to hold it by its edges and place it in an area that is visible to everyone else.”

It started to glow as I finished reading. “Did anyone else feel an electrical surge?” Henry glanced at each of us. I saw Ellis give a quick nod as well as Jenni. I replied that I felt something as well. A bright light encased the Helm for a few moments. As it diminished, I could see our four family crests engraved in its center. I continued reading.

“There will come a time when one of us will need to place a symbol of our family crest upon the Helm: violet flame for Rosenthal, emerald falcon for Porter, crimson stag for Sterling and navy owl for Borne.” 

“How did it know what family we came from? This is getting to be discomforting. There has to be some kind of logical justification for this,” said Henry.

“Sometimes, there are events and things that defy logical explanation. This is something otherworldly indeed. We need to be careful with this sacred relic,” Ellis replied.

 “If that time comes,” I read, “carefully pick up the Helm and place the family symbol on the desired spot. When completed, place the Helm back in the exact spot it had once been.  We are told that if used properly, it will increase our fortunes and bring renown to the family that seeks its guidance.”

            After reciting another prayer, I instructed the others to lower the Helm back to its original spot on the tree trunk. Placing the Helm carefully back in its casing, I caught Henry out of the corner of my eye. It appeared he had found something. “What are you looking at, Mr. Porter?”  I didn’t mean to be nosy, but he seemed to be transfixed on his find. 

He approached us, holding up an old mask. “This is a burial mask. I see the name ‘Wayne’ inscribed inside. What an unusual name. Unsure what it is doing all the way out here. Do you know if there are any bodies buried out here, Juniper?”

“It would not surprise me at all if there is an unmarked cemetery here. We all know a lot of death has occurred on this land. Not to mention those who may have died on their travels to explore out west,” I replied. But it still gave me the chills to think there were dead bodies beneath me.

Henry gave me a thoughtful look. “Well if you allow me, I would like to take this home and study it more. Find out where it could have come from or who it belongs to.” I gave him a nod and he placed it inside his knapsack. A dark figure flew by and knocked Jenni, Ellis and Henry onto the ground.  A black smoke started to settle, causing us to choke on its stench.  

“What the hell was that?” Ellis shouted. Before I could answer him, the pungent smoke consumed me, and I felt myself start to fall. I felt warm arms catch me before I hit the ground. They cradled me as we started to run out of the woods. Everything was in a fog and I couldn’t speak.

“Juniper! You’re going to be okay! We’re almost there!” It was Henry’s voice. He sounded close. He must have been the one carrying me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flash of Ellis’ rust-colored jacket and it appeared he was carrying Jenni on his back.

As we raced into the house, the rest of Jenni’s unsettling story popped in my head. She hasn’t been back to this house until she arrived to help my family. When she was trying to go to sleep that first night, she claimed to hear a tune being hummed softly, so she went to investigate. Memories of that night came flooding back. When she saw that doll again, Jenni said she was not afraid. She was happy her friend had come back. What could that possibly mean? I thought. Dolls couldn’t come to life. I felt something soft beneath me. I was back in my room.

“It’ll be okay, Juniper. Ellis will get some medicine. Hang in there!” Henry’s voice sounded close, yet far away. Was he in this room? Or was all of this going on in my head? In my blurred vision, I saw something move out of the room, and I felt my eyes grow heavy.

            “Do you have anything that’ll help Juniper? She’s mumbling nonsense and has barely moved since being attacked by whatever that was,” Henry spoke frantically. “I wonder if this has anything to do with the Helm.”

            Ellis seemed to ponder Henry’s comment. “It’s a real possibility. The Helm is a powerful item. I’m sure there are others out there who have heard of it. It’s also conceivable someone may know that the Rosenthal’s have possession of such a great relic.”  He reached inside his doctor’s bag. “I’m not sure if I have anything to ‘cure’ her, but have something that’ll help with the foggy head.” He handed Henry a small vial and he hurried down the hall. There was a childish giggling that made Ellis’ head turn. It was Jenni. There was a huge, disturbing grin on her face.

“You know, Dr. Sterling…that lullaby never left my head, even after all these years,” Jenni said. “Unlike any other children, they want to be my friends.”

Ellis stared at her. He had no idea what she was talking about. “I don’t understand, Jenni. Who are you referring to?”

She giggled at his response. “Unlike other children and adults, they want to be here and to play with me. They are my real friends and I understand them.” A chorus of singsong voices echoed from down the hall, and the pitter-patter sound of little feet was growing louder.  “They are approaching. I’m so happy to have my friends finally here.”

“What the hell is that?” Ellis peered in the direction of the sound, and he saw hundreds of tiny dolls approaching.  Something slammed at the window and Ellis saw the shadowy form they saw in the woods earlier. It was staring at him and continued to pound on the glass. This didn’t seem to deter Jenni at all.

“They are my friends!” Jenni exclaimed. She was holding a doll that looked like the ones coming down the hallway, but larger and more disfigured. “This is Vincent. He is known as the Playful Porcelain Doll. He’s the one beckoning our other friends to come and play. Don’t worry. They may look scary, but they just want to play with you and Juniper and Mr. Porter. If you don’t play with them, they will kill you.”

“Ellis, what’s with all the noise –” Henry was cut off as he stepped out of my bedroom and saw the dolls in the hallway making their way toward Jenni and Ellis. Upon hearing him, they stopped their march to turn and face him.  He raced back into the bedroom, slamming the door shut.  “It’s okay, Juniper. I won’t let them get in here.”

Everything was still hazy; however, my head was feeling less foggy. “What’s going on, Mr. Porter? Is everything all right?” I asked as I tried to sit up. But I was still too dizzy and fell back on the bed.  “Where are Ellis and Jenni?”

“They’re out in the parlor. They’ll be in here soon to see how you’re doing,” Henry said. I could tell he was trying to maintain his composure, but I couldn’t figure out why. “Please try and rest. Don’t strain yourself.”

The sound of glass breaking caught our attention. I saw Henry hurry out the door and slammed it shut. I thought I heard the faint sound of scratching at the door. “What is that?” I said to myself. I sat up again and saw tiny dolls appearing from a hole. I rubbed my eyes. I had to be imagining that. Dolls don’t come to life.

As I opened my eyes again, the number of dolls that came through has increased dramatically. They appeared to be making their way onto the bed when something stopped them in their tracks. I heard a low growl and hissing. As quickly as they came, the little dolls ran back out through the hole as Atticus raced after then. He caught a couple in his mouth and ate them. Sensing the danger was over and combined with the dizziness in my head, I laid back down on the bed as exhaustion took over.

Henry had been able to make it to Ellis and Jenni. The figure from the woods had broken its way into the house and was approaching them. It opened its eyes, revealing empty sockets with bright red dots for “eyes”. The mystery figure and Jenni walked toward each other and embraced one another.

“I am here, my child. I see the puppets have been summoned. You are doing a wonderful job. Now the time comes to do the dirty work. We need to kill those that are here and we can lay claim to this place once and for all.” The figure turned its attention to Henry. “You don’t know me, but your ancestors know exactly who I am. I have been a slave to your family for decades, but I was finally set free.” He turned toward Ellis. “I can thank your grandfather for doing just that, Dr. Sterling.”

“What are you talking about? Do you know what happened to my grandfather?” questioned Ellis. “I never heard any mention of a shadow figure from his excursions. You speak blasphemy!” The dolls started to form a circle around us, preventing us from leaving.

The figure gave a hearty laugh. “Your grandfather is the reason I am what you see before you. I used to be a farmhand on this property for the Porter family. My name is Tucker. I have returned to take back what is mine.”

            Henry looked around for a weapon to use. In the kitchen, he saw a claw hammer sitting on the table. He made a dash for it and grabbed it. He ran toward the figure, and managed to leap over the circle of dolls. He took a swing at Tucker, catching him in the shoulder. However, it didn’t seem to faze him.

“My father talked about you! Why do you speak so ill of my family? From what I was told, you were nothing but good to my aunt. But you disappeared one night and never returned. Seems to me you were the one who didn’t fulfill his duties and would rather blame others for your irresponsibility.” Henry took another swing, but missed as the figure disappeared and reappeared in the hallway toward my bedroom.

            “Careful, Henry. We wouldn’t want to do anything rash. I think my friends need to show you both a lesson in manners. Jenni, bring me the Rosenthal girl. The rest of you: attack Mr. Porter and Dr. Sterling!” Upon Tucker’s request, the dolls started to tighten the gap and climb onto other another to make themselves bigger.

            “Ellis! Stop Jenni!” Henry shouted as the dolls started to climb up his legs and arms. “Juniper needs to be safe!”

            Ellis attempted to dodge the dolls as he made his way toward Jenni, but he was pulled back by wisps of smoky tendrils. They wrapped around his legs and he crashed to the floor. His head bounced off the floor, rendering him unconscious.

            “Jenni! You don’t have to do this! Please! You can stop this!” Henry yelled. She turned around and stared blankly at him. Her eyes seemed dead as she snapped her fingers. The dolls that had followed her managed to break the bedroom door down.

            I heard a deafening sound, causing me to snap awake. My bedroom door was destroyed. There were hundreds of dolls and smoke that entered my room. I screamed as I tried to get away. But I was still too weak from earlier.

“It’s time for you to die Juniper Rosenthal.” I heard a deep voice say. “You will also tell me where you have hidden the relic. You will no longer need it in your possession.” I looked up to see a dark figure glowering at me and Jenni was standing next to him. There was a creepy smile plastered on her face.

Before Jenni could command her ‘friends’ to kill me, I saw Henry grab her from behind and pinned her down. I continued to back away from the scene in front of me. The dolls were getting closer, some even crawling onto me.

“Jenni! Please stop this madness!” I cried to her.

She giggled disconcertingly. Jenni took this moment to mock Henry. “You wouldn’t dare kill a child, would you? Oh yeah, that’s right! The Porter’s are child murderers! But you can’t kill me! My friends wouldn’t be happy with you and they won’t hesitate—”. Henry swung the claw hammer into Jenni’s head, killing her on impact. The dolls saw this and emitted a high-pitched sound that made my ears hurt.

“Let’s go Juniper!” Grabbing my hand, Henry pulled me off the bed and raced to the window. He smashed it open and we fled outside. More dolls kept appearing, giggling, and bent on revenge against us for killing their friend. From the front yard, we heard the floors buckle under the weight of the dolls.  I saw Ellis dart from the front door, Atticus in his arms as the house began to collapse. Did I really see dolls come to life and try to attack me?  Who was the figure standing next to Jenni? Then I remembered what Henry did to her. Why did he kill her?

“You killed Jenni!” Turning to Henry, I couldn’t stop my tears from falling. “Why did she deserve that? Maybe those things were controlling her!”  I felt guilty that the shock of seeing her death didn’t hit me until now. It was hard to comprehend everything. I fell to my knees and wept for my lost friend. Something fluffy brushed against me. Atticus was trying to get my attention which was unusual for him. I stroked his back as I raised my head to see the upper level of my house collapse. 

            “I’m so sorry Juniper. But we’ll be able to get it fixed up in no time. Is there anywhere you can go until everything’s fixed?” asked Ellis. “You’ve been through so much. You’re doing a remarkable job maintaining your composure.”  All I could do was nod as I continued to pet Atticus.

“The structure of the house must’ve been weakened. There have been many renovations done over its history…or so it’s been said. Somehow, I don’t believe it.” Henry said absent-mindedly. “My father said there are parts that are damaged beyond repair, and that was when my aunt lived there. It’s been some time since, so I can’t imagine what it looks like.”

I slowly stood up and started walking toward the path to town. “I know I should be worried about the current state of my home, but all I want to do is inform Ms. Borne about what happened to her daughter and get some sleep. Let’s worry about this later.” I didn’t care if they followed me or not. I suddenly stopped. “I need to get the Helm,” I whispered. “Unfortunately, it might be in the house. How are we supposed to get to it?”

“Well Juniper, I know you’re already irate with me, but I happen to have it…” Henry opened his knapsack and gently pulled it out of his bag. Rushing over to him, I grabbed it and held it close. How could I have been so stupid?

“I figured you wouldn’t have forgotten something so important. But when were ambushed in the woods, I slipped it inside my bag before we took left.”

“Thank you, Henry for keeping it safe. It really is important and I’m not sure what I would do if something happened to it at this point. On second thought, would it be asking too much if both of you gentlemen could walk me into town? I would really like to sleep, but we have a lot to do before that can happen.”

Betrayal Legacy: Chapter 2

A Sunday, 1729

          Today marked the anniversary of Thacker Porter’s death. My father’s death. I never did get to meet him as he died shortly before I was born. I suppose it’s paradoxical as I’m moving into his former home today. But something troubles me. Why did my father leave me the deed to his house in his will? Augustus needed it more than I did. He recently lost his home to a mysterious fire and had a growing family to consider. He said he didn’t mind, so I didn’t press the matter.

Augustus informed me there was a farmhand named Tucker and a cook named Cassidy who would live with me in the servant’s quarters and tend to tasks around the house. They came to my father’s property shortly after his health declined. Tucker offered to maintain the property until he got better. However, when my father passed, Cassidy was called upon to assist my mother. She had been grateful for everything they did for her, but she didn’t get to thank them as she departed us this past spring.

“Abigail. Are you listening?” Augustus’ voice sounded stern.  I snapped out of my thoughts and gave him my attention.

“I’m sorry brother. Just lost in thought about everything that needs to get done. Let’s get started.”

After an exhausting few days, we had everything unpacked and in its proper place. Tucker and Cassidy were wonderful, and I was fortunate to have them here. Life should be good. However, I couldn’t help but be concerned. I’ve been having the same dream every night since arriving here. I dreamt of being buried alive; my hands scratching against the coffin I was trapped inside. Additionally, I would see a fire burning me alive while in the coffin.

Aside from the nightmares, the last few weeks had passed by without incident. But today was the first day I saw them. I thought I was seeing things, but after rubbing my eyes, it wasn’t a trick of the eye. There were figures watching me from the woods. I was told there weren’t any other houses out here. I should probably address this to Tucker and Cassidy. The people from Norwich have avoided this area due to its rumors of death and violence.

“Miss Porter?” I heard Cassidy call from the house. “Ms. Rosenthal have finally arrived. Shall I unpack her things and place them in the guest room?”

I shook my head to clear it. Now was not the time to be thinking of such dreadful things. “If you would, thank you. I will be in shortly to greet her.”

Maybe I was seeing things that weren’t there due to lack of sleep. I woke up last night after having that recurring dream and thought I saw a girl standing near my bed. I didn’t mean to wake up Tucker with my scream, but it was alarming to think a stranger was in my bedroom. It turned out it was just a shadow of a coatrack. He didn’t seem to mind as he talked with me so I could calm down. I eventually fell back asleep, but it was restless. I hoped to sleep better tonight.

I made my way into the house where I saw the older woman sitting in the parlor. She was sipping a cup of tea, conversing with Cassidy. She must have sensed my presence as she turned toward me as I walked into the room.

“Abigail Porter. It has been some time.” She got up to embrace me.  We had become close friends over the years despite the age difference. Augustus told me that Jacqueline came to know our father when Augustus was six years old. He remembers coming home with his mother after being away to visit his aunt, and our father saying there was a young woman staying in the guest bedroom. He remembers his mother being angry at first, but when my father explained why Jacqueline was there, his mother’s anger subsided. She took pity on the girl and helped her become an unofficial member of the family. Augustus learned later his father lied to his mother, but it was necessary to protect them from the horrors of what actually took place. One day, however, she disappeared without a trace.

She came back to Norwich when Augustus was 19 years old. She had a child with her: her son Joseph. He had been the product of Jacqueline being raped by a well-respected resident in town. She had been running from her rapist on that day she last saw Augustus. It’s speculated our father killed him when he found out what happened, but there was no hard evidence. If he did, our father took that secret with him to the grave. Augustus kept in touch with her since. When I was nine years old, my brother introduced us. She was like a second mother to me, and Joseph became one of my best friends. He didn’t seem to mind hanging out with me even though he was seven years older.

“I have missed you Jackie. It’s been too long.” I took a seat in the chair next to her, and I poured myself some tea. “I didn’t think you would be here until Tuesday. Not that I mind of course. Just unexpected.”

“I had meant to write you a letter, but everything happened so fast. Joseph and Alayna had their first daughter, so I wanted to surprise them. I didn’t think you would mind my early arrival.” She smiled at me. I was happy for Joseph. He was an amazing father and his wife became a dear friend of mine. 

“You are hosting a dinner tonight?” Jacqueline asked. “Your letter stated there would be quite a few people attending, but I can’t seem to recall the occasion.”

“It is in honor of a family friend. We are celebrating the birth of his first child. Joseph said he would try to attend, given Alayna’s condition. My brother and his family are coming.  He had asked me if he could invite his friend over. I guess the wife passed not too long ago, so my brother wanted try and get him out of the house. I believe his name is Amos.”

I heard glass break and saw Jacqueline’s teacup in pieces on the floor. She had gone pale. “You don’t happen to mean Amos Sterling, do you?” She whispered. I nodded my head, confused by the reaction. While I had never met Amos, my brother told me he was a decent man.

“How do you know Amos?” I asked. Jacqueline stood up and took my hands into hers. She looked sad.

“Abigail. I don’t know what you know regarding your father. I don’t even think your brother knows everything. His mother wasn’t informed of my real reason for being there all those years ago. I know you’ve asked me to know more about him. I don’t feel it is my place, but I only feel it is right.” Her unsmiling expression made a knot form in my stomach. What was she about to tell me that made her this concerned?

“What does my father have to do with Amos? Do they know each other? Should I be worried?”

“There is bad blood between your father and Amos. The reason for that is…” She took a deep breath. “Your father killed Amos’ sister, Agatha.”

I took a step back. My father had murdered someone? But why? There had to be a rational explanation for this. I had always heard that he was well-respected and while he seemed rough around the edges, he fiercely cared for those he deemed worthy.

“I know what you’re thinking. That it’s not possible. That your father was a revered figure in Norwich. But he had some horrible secrets. He did kill Agatha Sterling. But you have to understand. It was necessary.” Jacqueline simply stated.

Disgusted didn’t begin to cover how I felt about this revelation. “Why would it be essential to kill another human being? This is horrifying to hear about this. How would it be necessary?”

“Didn’t think I would be rehashing these memories. Before all this happened, Agatha was a beloved friend of mine. The poor girl had become possessed by an entity intent on causing death. She had killed Batcher Borne in cold blood.”

“Batcher?” I asked. It couldn’t be, I thought. “My friend who were celebrating tonight had a grandfather named Batcher. Could it be possible…?”

“It is highly likely that your friend and Batcher are related. So unfortunate all that has happened to the Borne’s. She would have killed me as well if it wasn’t for your father. He saved my life, Abigail.”

Tears stung my eyes. While I felt killing in cold blood was intolerable, this seemed to be a bizarre exception. “I’m assuming Amos was not pleased when he found out his sister had been, from his perspective, murdered.” I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if I found out someone killed my brother.

“He was a young child when it happened, so he doesn’t remember much. But Amos’ father had a grudge against your father. Not only did Thacker kill Agatha…” Jacqueline paused again. “…but Agatha had told me that your father killed her aunt years before. Daniel Sterling lost a sister and a daughter to the same man. It would be hard to believe that Daniel wouldn’t have had some nasty words to say to his remaining children about Thacker.”

            I fell back into my chair. My head was spinning with this information. Everyone in Norwich knew there was a hostility between the Porter’s and the Sterling’s, but I was never informed of the reason. It made me wonder how Augustus and Amos became friends.

            “Jacqueline. How did you come to know my father?” I asked her.

            She closed her eyes and turned to face the window. “I suppose it’s too late to change your mind. After all, you did just find out he is responsible for the deaths of two people. But I came to know him inadvertently. Agatha, Batcher and I were taking a stroll in the woods when Batcher decided to check out the eerie house in the woods.”

Before I could ask, she nodded. “Yes, I am referring to this very house. We tried talking him out of it as it was getting dark and didn’t want to worry our families. Especially Agatha’s. We did find the house and before we could look around, a rock flew and hit me in the forehead.” 

            She pointed to the faint scar on her forehead as she chuckled. “You can thank your father for that. I can’t blame him. He was merely defending his property from strangers. After a brief altercation, we came to a mutual understanding and got to know him better. To find out what really happened on the day Ivy Sterling went missing.”  She paused to take a sip of tea.      

            “We found out that she was killed ‘out of mercy’ as she had been mortally wounded. Thacker did not want to end her life, but she insisted and he honored that. We also found out that my aunt Josephine and Batcher’s brother Thatcher were with Ivy and have never been seen. I still don’t know to this day what happened to her. My father refused to talk about it.”

            I felt a chill run through me. There had been a lot of tragedies and death on this property. Seeing those ghostly figures in the woods was starting to make more sense. The souls who were trapped here and had to watch as someone else take residence. It made me start to question if deciding to live here was a good idea. 

            There was a knock at the door. Cassidy was already on her way to answer it. I heard her greet someone, but my thoughts were elsewhere. All this new information about my father had left my mind in a daze. 

            “Ms. Porter, your brother has arrived.” Cassidy walked into the room, my brother behind her. There was another man with him. He appeared to be in his 40’s, his long, dark hair tied neatly in the back. He had bright blue eyes. I had never seen anything like it. They were captivating yet chilling.  Augustus walked toward me and pulled me into a hug.

            “Abby. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve arrived early. Ruth and the children will be here soon.” He stepped back. “Where are my manners? Abby, this gentleman here is Amos Sterling.”

            Amos bowed slightly before taking my hand and placed a light peck on the top. “It is nice to finally meet you, Ms. Abigail Porter. Your brother has told me a lot about you.”

            I couldn’t help but smile at his kindness. Most men seemed to be rude to me as I wasn’t as obedient as other women. “The feeling is mutual, Mr. Amos Sterling.”

            Augustus noticed Jacqueline behind me, a huge smile on his face. “Jacqueline.” He walked to her and they embraced. “It’s been a long time. All has been well with you, I hope?” They engaged in hushed conversation, so I allowed them their privacy.

            “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr. Sterling?” I asked. I wanted to get to know my brother’s friend better. He seemed like a respectable and cultured man.

            “Yes, that would be nice, Ms. Porter.”  He took a seat at the table in the dining room as I asked Cassidy to prep more hot water. There was another knock at the door. I told Cassidy not to worry about it. When I opened the door, I saw it was Baxter, his fiancée Hannah and their son Adam. His parents were on their way as well.

            We exchanged formalities and I guided them inside. Amos was still sitting in the dining area, sipping his tea. Augustus and Jacqueline had joined him. While she appeared to be wary of Amos, Jacqueline appeared to be engaged in an energetic discussion with him. I chose not to join their chat and checked on Cassidy. She had brought her sisters to assist with preparations for the dinner tonight. I picked up a knife to help cut potatoes.

            “What are you doing, Ms. Porter? You don’t need to do that. We have this under control.” Cassidy came beside me and was trying to take the knife away.

            “I don’t mind. Just needed a little break from the crowd Besides, you have done so much already and I like to help.” I smiled at her and continued cutting.  I heard her chuckle softly as she resumed her task. As I finished, I went to clean my hands and nearly ran straight into Amos.

            “I’m so sorry, Abigail. I didn’t see you there.” He chuckled in embarrassment. “Would it be all right if I asked your cook a question?”

“It’s fine, Mr. Sterling. I should have been paying attention. Of course. Cassidy’s just by the counter.” I pointed out Cassidy to him as I headed to the dining room to check on the other guests. I saw that Jacqueline’s son and his family arrived as well as my sister-in-law. She saw me and slowly made her way over.

            “Ruth. I’m so happy you were able to make it. How have you been feeling?  Hope the trip didn’t tire you too much.”

            She rubbed her belly and softly laughed. “It was no trouble at all. But this little one has been quite lively. Definitely the most active child yet.” We continued our conversation until it was time for dinner.

            As we took our seats at the large table, we were excited to see the selection of food: mutton with corn, potatoes and beans. Dessert was an assortment of freshly picked berries from the nearby woods. Tea and coffee were served for the women while the men enjoyed some whiskey my brother had recently bottled. We occupied ourselves with lively discussions, and the food was wonderful.  While Baxter and I talked about the latest book I finished, Tucker came into the room. I didn’t pay him much attention until he came up behind me and whisper into my ear.

            “I know it seems unconventional of me, Ms. Porter.” I noticed Tucker didn’t take his eyes off of Amos as he spoke. “But I am in need of your assistance outside. Can you bring Mr. Borne as well?”

            I excused myself from the table and asked Baxter to join us. I was puzzled by Tucker’s unusual behavior. He was a serious fellow who did not get riled up. We made our way outside, away from the house. When I asked him what was going on, he told me to keep following him and to be quiet. Near the cellar door, there was a small hole with something shimmering.

            “I found this buried near the cellar. Safe to say it was not here when I was doing chores earlier.” Baxter and I looked in the hole to see a crucifix lying there. But it was partly covered in an unusual brown liquid.

            “That looks like the one hanging from my bedroom. How did it get here? And what’s that substance?” As I reached for it, Tucker grabbed my hand. He shook his head vigorously and advised that was not the best idea.

            Jaqueline came rushing out from the back door and looked around the yard. It appeared she had the same brownish liquid on the front of her dress as the crucifix in the ground.  “Baxter! We need your help! Something’s wrong with Cassidy!”  Baxter and I started rushing to the house, but Tucker pulled me back.

            “I think it would be wise if you stayed out here.”  Before I could question him, everyone else was rushing out of the house in a panic. Jacqueline was leading them far from the house.

            “What is going on? Do you know something, Tucker?” I wasn’t sure why I asked that. He has been outside starting the evening chores while they were still eating dinner. But the way he kept his eye on Amos was strange. When he didn’t answer me, I repeated, “Is there something you have against Mr. Sterling?”

            “Let’s just say Amos Sterling isn’t what he appears to be.” The finality in his tone stopped me from proceeding further.  I looked over at Jacqueline, and she appeared to be giving instructions.

            “Where is my sister? Is she okay?” I heard my brother ask. She reassured him by pointing me out next to Tucker. He appeared to be relieved as he escorted his family down the road toward their home.  Everyone who showed up for dinner started to leave as well. But there was one person I didn’t see outside: Amos Sterling.

            When Jacqueline’s son left, she hastily made her way toward us. “When we were cleaning up, Cassidy started coughing violently and collapsed. When I went to check on her, she coughed up blood. Or what I thought was blood.” She pointed down her dress. “That is what I’m covered in and it smells foul.”

            “Jacqueline…where are Baxter and Amos? Are they still in the house or did they leave with everyone else?” She gave me a puzzled look.

            “When Baxter ran out of dressing, Cassidy managed to say there was more in the cellar. He’s been down there for some time. As for Amos, I haven’t seen him since we sat down for dinner. But now that you say it, I don’t think I saw him exit the house with the rest of us. I honestly didn’t pay attention as everything was in chaos.”

            I had an uneasy feeling. “I should go check on Baxter. Tucker, can you come with me? I don’t feel comfortable going down to the cellar alone. I’m sure everything is fine.” Tucker nodded his head, and we descended down the stairs.  I grabbed the lantern, lit the candle and pressed forward. 

            “Baxter? Where are you?” I said into the darkness. There was no response. The uneasy feeling increased as I called out to him again. It remained silent.

            “It is possible he’s back upstairs. We would have found him by now if he were here, or he would have at least acknowledged you,” suggested Tucker. He was probably right. We started to head back to the stairs to go outside.

            “Abby!” Baxter grabbed me. I screamed as I tried to push away. When I realized it was Baxter, I allowed myself to relax. But I was angry.

            “Baxter! That’s not funny! You really scared me!” When I shined the light on his face, his eyes looked fevered. He was sweating and was shaking a little. My stomach dropped as he continued.

            “Did you see it too? There’s a body down here! Why is there a body down here? It’s a young girl. I don’t recognize her, but her body is severely decayed.” He started to chuckle. He still hadn’t let go on my arm. “Are you a murderer Abby? Why do you have a body in your cellar space?”

            My eyes widened at this. What body? If it was as decayed as he said, Tucker and I would have smelled something when we were looking for him. He let go of my arm and ran down the hall. “It’s right in here! Why is it here?!”

            Tucker decided to go check for himself. I saw him glance around the room. I could see his expression was that of confusion as he glared at Baxter. “What are you trying to pull here, boy? There’s no body in there. Just some sacks of potatoes.”

            Baxter started to laugh manically. “I’m not trying to pull anything! There’s a dead body of a girl in there! Why don’t you believe me?  Abby, you believe me, right?” Even though he looked crazed, it was obvious he was genuinely frightened.  I looked at Tucker’s shaking head.

            “Baxter…are you sure you didn’t mistake the sacks of potatoes as a body? Are you feeling okay? You look ashen. Come upstairs with me, please. Take a rest. Jacqueline told me you did a lot for Cassidy.” I reached out for him, but he slapped my hand away.

            He screamed in frustration. “I wish you would believe me! There is a body in there! I would have no reason to lie!” He started banging his head against the retaining wall. Tucker tried pulling him away to stop. Baxter pushed him away and continued to bang his head.

            “Baxter, stop! Please!” He continued his beating until his forehead was bleeding profusely. I ran up to him, grabbing his arm as another attempt to get him to stop. He shoved me away and glowered at me.

            “Why won’t you let me die? We’re all doomed to die here! Just like that girl! Just like my grandfather!” He picked up a rock and resumed beating himself.  My pleas went unheard as he pounded the rock repeatedly into his head. Without warning, the rock was removed from his hand. I could tell this confused him, and I watched his body shot up in the air and his knife mysteriously unsheathed itself from the holder.

            “What the hell…?” Tucker snatched my hand and pulled me away from the scene in front of us. He managed to cover my eyes before I heard the knife slice into flesh and gurgling. I knew what happened and started to viciously shake. It became hard to breathe as I couldn’t stop bawling. Tucker pulled me away as we rushed outside.  Jacqueline saw my distressed state and ran over.

            “Abigail! What’s wrong? Did you find Baxter?” At hearing his name, a howl bubbled from my throat and tears stung my eyes.

            “We found Baxter in the basement. He was talking nonsense about finding a body. Something was not right with him. But that wasn’t the strangest thing that happened,” Tucker whispered to Jacqueline as I continued to cry.  “It was as if…something unseen raised him in the air and sliced his throat open. He was dead before he hit the ground.”

            Jacqueline gasped. “I don’t understand. Something lifted him up in the air and neither one of you saw what it was?”  She knelt down next to me and cradled me in her arms. “I’m sorry you had to witness that Abby. We need to get out of here. We’re not safe here.”

            Cassidy came stumbling out of the house. She was screaming at someone to get away from her. I opened one eye to see Amos walking down the back steps and toward the four of us. He appeared to be chanting something unintelligible. I felt Jacqueline tighten her hold on me.

“He’s chanting the sacred incantation for the Creed of Fenrisúlfr!” I heard Tucker shout. He sounded furious. “Amos, stop this at once!”

          “Amos, what are you doing? I don’t understand what’s going on…” My thought dropped off as he paused his invocation.

            “You thought you could hide here. How foolish of you,” responded Amos. He was directing his accusation at Tucker and Cassidy. “I had a hunch the moment I saw you two. But my suspicions were confirmed when I poured the vial of heinios into your drink, Cassidy. You didn’t drop dead when you consumed it, but instead your body rejected it. No matter who you are or what your intentions. When you make a deal with Hell…Hell always comes for you. He has come to collect the debts owed. The two of you should’ve known better.”

            A scream pierced the air. Jacqueline and I witnessed an orange light coming from the woods.  We watched in horror as shadowy tendrils crept toward Cassidy. She screamed and tried to get away from it. But she was too weak from her poisoning and was easily snatched by them. She was drug away and disappeared into the woods. We could hear her screams before they abruptly ended.

            “Cassidy!” Tucker pointed a finger at Amos, aghast at what occurred. “You bastard! I may have agreed to this before, but this is taking it too far! I won’t have anything more to do with this. Especially if it means harming Ms. Porter!”

            We hear Amos snicker. “What a shame. Cassidy was one of the best servants for Him. No matter. There’s always someone else willing to take over. Guess you’ll be next as a sacrifice for Him. I had thought you were stronger than that, Tucker.”

The smell of brimstone and the clatter of hooves filled the air. I turned to see an enormous black mare materializing from the thicket of trees.

            “Hell has decided some in this house owe it hard labor and has come to collect.”

            I saw Tucker’s eyes widen in horror at the sight of the mare. “Tarzoth. This cannot be.” Jacqueline and I watched as the giant horse emitted a light from its eyes and immediately put Tucker under a spell. A portal of light appeared behind it and Tucker started walking toward it. Once he got to the entryway and touched the light, he let out a harrowing scream before evaporating into a green mist.

            “What did you do to them! You monster!” Jacqueline pulled me behind her as Amos walked toward us.  He said something under his breath and Tarzoth paraded around the house, creating a barrier between us and the house.

            “You cannot run into the house for safety. The time has come for my Master to rise from his prison in hell and take over. It is also time for me to make this personal and complete my personal vendetta against your family.” Amos pointed at me. “You won’t be leaving this place alive, Abigail Porter. Whether it’s by my hand of Tarzoth’s. Just make it easy and accept your fate now instead of delaying the inevitable. Once the two of you sacrifice yourselves to the light, another step will have been completed to releasing Him from His prison.”

            Jacqueline took my face in her hands before telling me to grab the crucifix and to make a break for the woods. She promised me she would be all right and that if she wasn’t at the Hanging Tree in two hours, I needed to leave and find help in Norwich.

            “There’s nothing you can do to protect her, Rosenthal. What can an old hag like you do against a man of my abilities?” Amos sneered as he tried taking off after me. Jacqueline seemed to anticipate this and grabbed the tails of his jacket to temporarily halt him as I grabbed the crucifix and ran to the woods. 

            I didn’t dare look back and continued to run as fast as I could. I heard the sounds of hooves behind me. I tried picking up my speed, but it was useless. There was a flash of light that appeared in front of me. Based on what I witnessed tonight, I turned to avoid stepping into it. I could no longer hear the mare running after me but I kept sprinting.  It was getting harder to take in air as I was not used to this kind of physical activity. There was a small cave up ahead and I ducked down inside of it so I could catch my breath.

            “Abigail Porter! Where are you?” I froze. Amos was looking for me. Where was Jacqueline? I hoped that Amos didn’t do something to her. I tried getting lower to the ground on the chance he peeked in the cave. I desperately searched for anything I could use to defend myself. If anything, I could use the crucifix as a weapon.

            There was the sound of rustling leaves coming closer. I refused to breathe as I feared he would be able to somehow hear it. “Abigail!” I heard him call out again. “Stop dawdling. This is going to happen whether you like it or not. I promise I won’t make your pain last too long if you come out now.”

            I risked a peek. He was standing on the hill above my hiding spot. There was the sound of more rustling a little further away and that seemed to catch Amos’ attention. “You foolish woman! You can’t even hide properly!” He rushed after the sound, his footsteps getting more faint.

            I couldn’t stay here. I needed to either get to the Hanging Tree, like Jacqueline said. Honestly, I hope I would run into her and we could escape this together. He was too powerful for the two of us, I felt. Crawling out of the cave, I rushed to the tree as quietly as I could.

After a few minutes, I saw Jacqueline in the distance. I was elated to see her still alive. I ran toward her, failing to hear the sound of crunching leaves to my right. “Abigail!” I heard her scream. I felt something sharp bury itself into my back. I fell forward and rolled onto the ground. All I could feel was a searing pain in my chest.

            “Amos, stop! I beg you!” yelled Jacqueline. I could see Amos coming toward us. I tried standing up, but he knocked me back down, pinned me with his foot. That was when I realized I had a spear sticking out of my chest, blood gushing from the wound.

            “I may not have been able to kill the old man, but I will get my revenge. My sister Agatha…she didn’t deserve to die at the hands of your father. Your whole family is a stain in this community. You feel you’re entitled to do as you please with no consequences. The only exception to your sorry excuse of a family is your brother! He was the only friend I had. I couldn’t kill him. But I will have no issues killing you!” I watched him pull out a dagger and drug his finger across the blade.

            Why did it have to be me? I didn’t do anything to deserve this other than having the Porter name. Based on how we were interacting earlier this evening, I thought Amos and I could have been friends. Maybe something more down the road. It turns out I was mistaken and now I’d have to pay with my life.

            “Guess you’ll just have to be the substitute for your father. I will thoroughly enjoy this. This one’s personal. Fuck the debt owed to Him.” Amos slashed the knife across my throat. Blood started to fill my throat, making it hard to breathe. I started panicking which caused my breathing to pick up.  My vision was getting fuzzy and dark. I thought I had heard Jacqueline cry out and throw herself at Amos. The last thing I saw was her taking the same dagger and stabbing him in the eye.

*******************************

            “You bitch!” I heard him scream at me. Looking back at Abigail’s lifeless body, it started to bring back memories of that night from long ago. Memories that I had kept locked up deep inside my mind. I felt anger bubbling up inside me as Amos pulled his knife out, blood gushing down his face.

            “Enough of this! Get into that light and sacrifice yourself! No one would miss a whore like you anyway,” Amos sneered at me.  He came rushing at me, knife outward and ready to attack. I managed to get the crucifix lying on the ground and brought it down into his other eye, permanently blinding him. His screams filled the area as he dropped his weapon and clutched his new gash. I knocked him down and pulled the rope I found earlier from my knapsack. I wrapped it around his neck, forming a loop and pulled hard. He didn’t have any time to react as he started to thrash around and attempted to loosen it from his neck.

            I continued to pull with all my strength. Amos started to fight less. His face was an ugly shade of purple as his hands fell from his neck. He fell to the ground with a thud. I noticed he was barely breathing, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I grabbed the knife and stabbed him in the same spot he killed Abigail.  As I pulled the knife out of his unmoving form, a bright light coming from the direction of the house. The Night Mare made a guttural whinny sound before retreating into the light.

The beast was driven off, the bright light fading from view. Where it was lies a package, wrapped in oilcloth. I walked over to examine it. Did it come from the light?  I thought. Or was it placed there earlier and I didn’t notice it? I know not what it could mean.

I brought the package into the empty house and started looking through the scattered pages. Amos has left stacks of mad scribblings, written in a rust-colored ink. There’s an incantation to “summon the Night Mare,” as well as something about a Sacred Order and a “great awakening.” These are the rantings of a mind rotted by evil. I know not why someone would consort with Hell. This house corrupts even the most devout of souls. I wish this wouldn’t have happened to Amos, but even the strongest of us can be consumed with sin.

“I have a feeling this is far from over,” I said to myself. “But to witness the triumph of the divine over evil, even if only for a moment, fills me with hope, and I want that to linger.”  Evil will try to overcome its loss. Hell remembers those who cross its path. From this day forth, our four families were marked, as Hell does not take defeat lightly. The sight of Hell on earth tests the heartiest of souls, and finding faith is not an uncommon reaction. After the events that took place that night, I am very fortunate to be alive and I thanked God for that. Maybe something positive will still come from this. It would be nice to achieve some peace instead of having our families continue to suffer from this entity.

Betrayal Legacy: Chapter 1

November 1694

Winter came early this year. The lack of rain this past summer didn’t help with the crops. There was never enough food, but this year was terrible. When I would travel into town, the number of people were hungry and angry increased. It was unfortunate because of the terrible luck that had fallen the growing season. More people would suffer, and it has caused some to grow desperate. There was an increase of thefts and unrest as the summer crawled by. We lost about 70 residents due to starvation. However, what made everyone unsettled was the approaching anniversary of the disappearances of Ivy Sterling, Thatcher Borne and Josephine Rosenthal.

It had been 28 years since that horrific night. Where the Sterling girl and her friends were killed.  For months, I would dream of seeing her body on that tree limb. Even though I pulled the trigger at Ivy’s request. She told me not to feel guilty about it, but I couldn’t help myself. I could have more of an effort to save her life. I didn’t blame her family for being enraged for the lack of answers, but if I had told them the truth, I would have been viewed as crazy. I’m still trying to figure out how no one noticed this house before and how I came to truly acquire the mysterious deed. 

Over the years, my wife Anne and I unearthed various clues to the origins of this homestead. I found three sets of human remains: two adults and a small child. There was a small pendant found around one of their necks. It read “Clarke”. That name wasn’t familiar to me, and no one in Norwich had heard of the name. I may have to research this more if things continue to remain as they are. Maybe it can lead to more answers about this place.

Anne had found an intricate chalice.  It was in rough shape and needed to be cleaned up. Maybe it could be worth something, or it could be kept in our family as an heirloom. We didn’t have much, but I wanted Augustus to have a better life than that of my wife and I. If anything, he could sell it for gold or goods.

Augustus is my six-year-old son and has been the best thing to happen to me. I know most parents say this, but he has brought a bright spot into my life. It felt as if I was given a second chance, even though I was close to the grave.  He’s helped me forget about the hard times, and the events of that night.  That was until he was digging around in the yard about a month ago. He came running into the house to show me his latest find: a broken crossbow with red markings on the barrel. I had a bad feeling when I saw it and confiscated it from him. It has been locked up since that day. He has asked about it a few times, but I’ve told him to forget about what he found and to not speak of it again.

            I had only been to the Hanging Tree twice since the incident. I felt the name was appropriate. I had gone back the following day of the incident to remove Ivy’s body off the limb and to give her a proper burial next to Thatcher and Josephine. I had not been accustomed to so much digging and was weary once the task was done.  I hoped they were buried deep enough. The second time was tonight when I heard laughter coming from the woods. Fortunately, my wife and son were in town for the week, visiting her sister. Grabbing my pistol, I made my way outside. The laughter was coming from the wood. It got louder the deeper I ventured. I knew where I was headed, and my feeling of uneasiness grew as I saw that tree in the distance.

The laughter stopped and everything seemed suspended in time from that night: the glow from the moonlight was present and it was hazy. I saw the chopped tree limb, the bloodstains still visible. I don’t know how that was possible, but nothing about this particular area seemed like it was from this realm.

            “Whoever’s out there, show yourself now! I am not in the mood for childish antics!” I shouted. There was no response and something in the air shifted. “Show yourself now! I will shoot!”

            A high-pitch laugh came from behind me. As I turned around, I saw a translucent figure: Ivy Sterling. She was staring at me with a blank expression; the wound in her stomach was dripping blood.  I jumped back, shocked at seeing her. This wasn’t probable. Maybe I finally went mad.

            “This isn’t possible. You’re dead,” I whispered.

She pointed a bloody finger to the boulder. There was something shiny sitting nearby. It was the chalice my wife found. There was a new inscription: The Chalice of Insanity. What did that mean? Was there some significance to this? I picked it up and placed in my bag. Ivy nodded her head toward the bottom of the hill. I could hear voices. Great, I thought. More people out skulking around, probably trying to find things to steal. As I moved silently to check it out, I could make out three figures.

            “…is that it up ahead?” I heard one of them ask. “It feels like we’ve been walking forever.”

            “Of course it is, Batcher. There are no other houses this far out of Norwich,” responded a female voice.

            So, I thought, there are here looking for my house. How dare they! I decided to make my way back to the house before they got closer. In the corner of my eye, I saw Ivy fade away. I felt a pang of sadness at seeing her again and being reminded of what happened, but I needed to press forward and stop these trespassers.

            “It looks like no one’s home. Maybe this was the night to do this,” I heard another female voice remark.

I picked up a rock and got into position behind a tree. Maybe throwing it in their general direction would scare them off and leave my property. I could see them more clearly: it was a young male accompanied by two females. I had seen the one girl before philandering with my nephew in town. I believe she was related to Josephine Rosenthal. This was interesting. A relative of the ‘missing’ Rosenthal girl prowling around.  I watched them approaching the front steps. Chucking the rock into the darkness, I heard it land.

            “Ouch! Something hit me!” Oh shit. I ended up hitting one of them. I saw the male and one of the females assemble around the other female. The rock had hit her square in the forehead, and the bleeding was profuse.

            “Who the hell is out there?!” The male turned in my direction and held up his lantern. Fortunately, his light wasn’t bright enough to see me. I took three steps back, trying not to alert them to my presence. They would come looking for the source of the mysterious flying rock. I wasn’t afraid, but I was outnumbered and at least one of them had a weapon. I needed to get into the house and hide out until they decided to leave. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side. There was a loud crack as I stepped down on a branch. There was rustling as two sets of footsteps came toward me. Before I could act, I was grabbed and slammed into a tree, pistol at my temple.

            “Just who the hell are you, old man?” the young man snarled at me.  “Were you the one who threw the rock at Jackie? Such an atrocious thing to do to a lady! What kind of savage are you?!”

            A chuckle escaped the back of my throat. He was shorter than me and didn’t sound threatening. “Boy, you’re the ones trespassing on MY property. Just what brings all of you out here at this hour?”

            “Enough!” The other girl cried out. “If what this gentleman says is true, then we are trespassing, and asking about our reason for being here is acceptable.” I watched as she assisted Jackie with bandaging up the wound.

            “That’s right. What are three children doing out here so late? There are dangerous creatures that lurk in these woods. Creatures to which of the like you’ve never even seen or heard,” I growled. “Leave this place if you want to live another day!”

            “Mr. Porter, please hear us out,” the younger girl pleaded. “There is a good reason for us being here. Let us explain.”

            I looked at the girl in disbelief. “How’d you know who I was? I keep to myself and make sure my family gets involved with as few people as possible. Who are you?”

            “I am Agatha Sterling. My aunt Ivy was last seen here. I was told her and her friends—”

            “Like my brother,” interrupted Batcher. “As well as Jackie’s aunt. We were told that you were nearby in the woods. You were last person to see them alive! That alone looks pretty suspicious.”

            I chuckled again. Didn’t surprise me they were told I was to blame. It does look suspicious. However, they wouldn’t be able to handle the truth as to what really happened. “So, Agatha Sterling…Jackie Rosenthal –”

            “It’s Jacqueline Rosenthal, Mr. Porter,” she snipped.

“Fair enough. Jacqueline,” I sarcastically replied, “Can you tell your friend here to let go? Batcher Borne, is it? I knew your father. I respected him. I promise I won’t harm any of you unless you give me a valid reason.”

            I felt Batcher loosen his hold but still refused to release me. “He didn’t think much of you after my brother went missing. But I am told he was one of the few who didn’t want to see you hang,” he said. “Something about your family having a high moral compass and being from a respectable background. What did happen to my brother? You must know.”

            I felt apprehensive. He did have the right to know what happened to Thatcher, but this was not the appropriate setting. It was getting cold. The girls were starting to shiver in their thin cloaks. I was glad I started a fire before venturing out. Hopefully it wouldn’t take much to get it restarted. I had asked him again if he would release me, and we could talk this out civilly in the house and away from the bitter wind.

            “I suppose that would be fair,” Batcher replied as he let go. We made our way into the house. I was surprised to see the fire still roaring but after being in the cold for longer than necessary, it felt nice. Agatha and Jacqueline made their way to the fireplace.

            “Would you like some tea? Then I can tell you exactly what happened to your family members,” I asked them.

            “That would be kind of you. Thank you, Mr. Porter,” said Agatha.  She got up to fetch some water, I stopped her.

            “You stay by the fire and warm up. And call me Thacker.”  I walked into the kitchen to get some water to heat up. The others were chatting quietly among themselves about their families and trying to figure what they hoped to accomplish going forward. I had caught that Jacqueline had assisted wounded soldiers during King William’s War. She was 19 years old and how all those dead bodies still haunt her. I felt somewhat of a connection with her on that end. Seeing innocent lives die for unjust reasons. It messes with a person.

            “How did you even get involved in King William’s War? A battlefield is no place for a woman to be,” I inquired. Jacqueline twirled to look at me, a somber expression on her face.

“It’s rather an odd story. My brothers Josiah and Judah were called to fight. While my brother Josiah was more than keen to go, my brother Judah was terrified. He was only 14-years-old. When the constables came to gather my brothers, I was mistaken as a boy and was taken in go fight.”

            “How were you mistaken as a boy? Especially at 19. I would like to think anyone would be able to tell…” I chose not to finish the rest of my comment.  I saw her face flush a little as she turned back to the fire and continued.

            “While I was assisting my mother making dinner, I leaned over the fire too far. My hair caught on fire.  Suppose it was a good thing Josiah acted fast and threw water at me. Surprised I didn’t end up bald. So, it was the lack of hair and had finished chores when they arrived.”  She turned back to face me and chuckled lightly. “It was figured out quick that I wasn’t a man, but I did end up helping those in the infirmary. I don’t wish that on anyone…it was horrible.”

            The four of us ended up talking for hours. After explaining to them what had happened to each of their relatives, a lot of misunderstanding and confusion was cleared up. Agatha was the most horrified to learn what happened, but she didn’t seem to despise me for what happened. In fact, she seemed appreciative. “At least she didn’t have to suffer terribly long,” she remarked.

I learned that Batcher was the town’s medical practitioner alongside his brother Andrew. Batcher never knew Thatcher as he had passed years before Batcher was born.  Agatha had taught herself to read and write. She was well-educated for her age. She would definitely go to university if she would be allowed. She was currently being courted by one of the Fonseca boys. She was peculiar as she had no interest in the life of a housewife. She didn’t mention it, but she felt there was more to life than that. It would get her killed if she breathed a word of it. “You’re safe here. No one will know of your wishes other than us here,” I commented to her.

            She smiled as she poked at the dying fire. “Where do you keep the wood? This fire is dying, and it’ll be another frigid night.” I shook my head as she stood up to look around.

            “No, you’re my guest. I can go fetch some more,” I replied.

            She remained standing. “Please, Thacker. I insist. Is it outside? I need to get some fresh air anyway.”

            Chuckling, I said she was stubborn and told her it was by the small shed in the back of the house. She lifted the hood on her cloak and went outside. The rest of us resumed our conversation while we waited for her to come back.  Some time had passed and when I was getting more water, I didn’t see Agatha outside. In fact, I didn’t see her at all.  I grabbed my gun and rushed outside.

            “Thacker? Is something wrong?” I heard Batcher say as he got up to follow me to the door.

            “Where’s Agatha? How long has she been gone?” I asked. “Should have known better than to let her go out on her own.” I was thankful for the mostly full moon tonight. The sky was clear as well so it was easier to look around.  Batcher and Jacqueline were calling out for her while I continued to search.

            “Hey! I see a light. Deep in the woods. Do you think it’s Agatha?” Batcher asked. My blood froze as I looked where he was pointing. That’s the direction of the Hanging Tree. Nothing good could come from that.

“We need to hurry!” I took off as fast as my old body allowed. Agatha didn’t need to suffer the same fate as Ivy. Batcher and Jacqueline ran past me, calling out for their friend.

            “Agatha! Where are you?” Jacqueline shouted. She started heading to the entrance where the Hanging Tree was and I yelled for her to stop. “Why? There isn’t anything in there.” She looked confused.

            “Trust me. Do not go into there. That tree is bad news.” The three of us stood at the entry. We heard a twig snap nearby and as we looked that direction. Agatha was slowly coming toward us. She didn’t appear to be harmed, but she did look troubled. She was holding something in her hand but I couldn’t see what it was.

            “Sweetheart, where did you end up? I told you the pile of firewood was in the back of the house. How did you end up all the way out here?” I started walking toward her; however, something told me to stay back.

            She didn’t answer me. She was looking around in a dazed like state. Whatever she was holding, she held it close to her body and was trying to hide it from the rest of us.

“Agatha…are you okay? You look pale. What’s that in your hand?” Batcher asked. 

She finally acknowledged us. “Before I could gather the kindling, there was a bright light. It was beckoning me to follow it.”

“You foolish girl! What made you think that was a good idea? You could have been killed!” I yelled. “There are many dangers out here.”

Agatha ignored me and continued. “The light brought me to this clearing. Where the Hanging Tree was. Once I stepped in, the light turned into a girl about the same age as me. She looked like me. I was alarmed by the similarities but she reassured me that it was okay. She pointed to a boulder where there were three wooden crosses. I came to the realization this is where my aunt and the others were buried.” She looked at me with stern eyes. “Am I correct, Mr. Porter?”

I solemnly nodded. She resumed by saying that after she said a quick prayer for the dead, something shiny caught her eye near the tree.

 “I found this brooch tangled in the tree’s roots…when I reached for it, a hand shot up from the ground and grabbed my wrist,” she whispered. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I heard a voice inside my head. I think it was from the spirit that has come from within this brooch.”

She held up the brooch to show us. There appeared to be some kind of red liquid inside the centerpiece. It appeared to move on its own? No, I had to be seeing things.

“The voice said to me, ‘It is time for revenge at last. I chose to bleed into the chalice, but I was killed for it. But I will have the last laugh. I will get my vengeance. What those fools don’t know is that I still serve him’. Then, a spectral being appears briefly in front of me. He reminded me of a Viking warrior I’ve seen in books. He pointed to the brooch and told me to look to it for answers.”

Jacqueline and Batcher both looked at me, their faces unsettled by their friend’s behavior. My uneasiness increased with her fanatical statements. It didn’t make any sense. This was starting to sound like the ramblings of a crazy person. It seems we all came to the same conclusion: we see formerly friendly eyes now filled with bloodlust. I noted the rough carvings of strange symbols on her skin. There was blood all over her arms, but Agatha didn’t seem to notice.

“I didn’t understand at first what he was talking about,” she continued. She gave a soft, but unsettling giggle. “I could feel something stir inside me. It was almost like I became one with the spirit who was talking to me. All those intense emotions were foreign to me. But the more I studied this brooch, the more I started to realize just how… livid I am. What happened to my aunt wasn’t right. What happened to my new friend wasn’t right. And it’s your fault.” Agatha pointed her finger at me. Her eyes darkened, and she flashed a sinister smile. “I am filled with a rage I’ve never felt before. But it feels great. Now I understand why Leif…that’s the name of the Viking spirit I met…called this the Brooch of Rage.”

Jacqueline took a few steps toward her friend. “Agatha, what’s gotten into you? I have never seen you this distressed. What happened to your aunt wasn’t right, but how is it Thacker’s fault?”

Agatha turned her attention to Jacqueline. “HE LET HER DIE! He could have saved her, but chose to let her die slowly and painfully. He’s a monster! It is time to kill him. It’s time to kill all of you. I can’t trust any of you.”

I shot Jacqueline a look, telling her to make her way over to Batcher and I. We needed to get away from Agatha before she did something extreme. It was apparent now that she was possessed by this evil spirit. We needed to try and figure out how to get it out of her. We had to move. We would lose to her if we tried to take her on in this open space. We needed to get into the house and trap her.

“She was falsely accused as a witch. She was killed for that reason. And all of you are to blame!” Agatha continued, laughing manically between sentences. “Just like Leif…he was just trying to beckon Him from the center of Hell. It was for the better. By summoning Him, it would have made everyone’s lives better. Wipe out the useless, keep the useful. There are too many people as it is…we only need the useful to remain and make everything better…”

As she muttered incoherently, I decided to take this chance to get the three of us into the house. We needed to stop her. Hopefully it wasn’t too late to save her. It didn’t make me feel good to have to potentially kill another member of the Sterling family. Ivy didn’t need to die. That was a situation of unfortunate circumstance…I just hope we didn’t have to kill Agatha. 

We made our way back to my house swiftly and without Agatha noticing us leaving. As soon as I reached for the door, I pushed Jacqueline inside. As Batcher was about to step inside, he was snatched into the darkness.

“Just go! I got this!” he screamed.

I followed his order and ran inside. Even through the walls, we could hear a struggle. Jacqueline and I made the mistake of looking out the window.  We could see Batcher’s body fly against the side of the house with a sickening crack. We watched as he tried to get up to see Agatha standing over him, his pistol in her hand. We heard him shout at her before the sound a single gunshot. He screamed in pain before pleading with Agatha to stop this. Unfazed by his pleas, she pulled out a dagger and started stabbing him repeatedly until he was dead.

Jacqueline let out a scream, but I managed to cover her mouth and pulled her away from the window. As we backed up, I could see Agatha whip her head at the window and stared at us darkly. Her eyes had this insane, unstable look and her smile was frightening. She was covered in Batcher’s blood. She pulled the dagger out of his chest and made her way to the house.

Knowing we needed to hurry, I gently turned Jacqueline around. She was sobbing uncontrollably. I needed her to help me stop this crazed child. I couldn’t do it alone. “I need you to listen to me. Go upstairs to the master bedroom. It’ll be the second door on the right. Buried inside a wooden crate, you’ll find a crossbow. Once you find it, bring it to me and then I’ll give you my pistol.”

“Please! We aren’t going to kill her, are we?” Jacqueline cried. “No, she’s just a victim to that evil entity. I know Agatha. She is the sweetest girl I know. Promise me you won’t kill her!”

I sighed deeply. “Do you want to die? We can’t take that chance. Now go get the crossbow like I asked. If she gets in here before you come back, I’ll hold her back as best as possible. If anything happens, there is a secret door in the master bedroom that has a chute leading outside into the garden. Take that and run into town for help. Can you do that for me?”

She nodded tearfully as she got up and made her way upstairs. I checked my pistol; I still had all my bullets. A loud banging at the door got my attention and I readied myself.  Child or not, whatever possessed Agatha wasn’t going down without a fight.  A sharp crack indicated it wouldn’t be long until the door was destroyed and she would be here, ready to shed more blood. I heard a scream outside the door as she finally broke through.

            “Are you ready to die, Thacker? Don’t fight your fate, and I promise you won’t suffer too much.” That wasn’t her voice. I did note a fresh gash on her forearm that was bleeding profusely.  She rushed at me with inhuman speed, and I barely escaped her mad dash. When I dodged her, she let out another scream of frustration and hysteria. Agatha took the dagger out from her boot and slashed her other forearm. Crimson flowed freely down and dripped on the floor.

“…you have to hit your mark. Or else you will be punished.” I heard her whisper. She started smacking herself violently. “Stupid, stupid! Do you want to die? Then you need to kill them!” 

I heard the floorboards above me creak. Shit, I thought. Jacqueline. Agatha must have heard it as well as she took off running toward the stairs. “Jacqueline!” I shouted. “Agatha is coming! You need to hide!”

            The rushed steps meant she heard me. Good, I thought. That would buy us a little time. I also wondered why Agatha didn’t kill me before going after Jacqueline. It didn’t really matter. If we didn’t stop her, there was no doubt we’d be dead before morning. Then who knows what would happen after that. Would she continue to go on a killing spree, or would she be set free once she finished her purpose? That would have to be figured out later as I needed to help Jacqueline. As I reached the landing, there was a loud thud to my left.  Looking for the source of the noise, I saw the crossbow lying there.

            “How did you get there?” I asked myself. There were three arrows in the quiver. They couldn’t afford to be wasted. Making my way upstairs, it wasn’t hard to track Agatha’s steps. The trail of blood made it easy. It appeared she went straight to the master bedroom. I hoped I wasn’t too late. Quietly making my way to the doorway, I saw Agatha not too far off, her back to me. She didn’t seem to sense my presence as she was looking for Jacqueline.

            “Jackie…please come out. We need to get out of here,” I heard Agatha’s voice. She was trying to deceive the other girl to come out. She wasn’t that stupid. I chanced it and took a sweeping glance around the room before ducking out of sight. I didn’t see Jacqueline. Maybe she was able to hide in another room before Agatha made it up. But then I saw slight movement from behind the door. I looked through the crack; Jacqueline’s back was to me. She didn’t seem to notice me. I hoped Agatha wouldn’t slam the door shut or else Jacqueline would be exposed with nowhere to go.

            I loaded the first arrow and fired at Agatha. It grazed her shoulder, which caused her to shriek in pain. She twisted to face me. “You’re just asking to die, aren’t you?” She came running at me. I loaded the second arrow and shot at her again. The arrow made its target: her chest.  There was a ghastly look on her face as she fell to the floor, blood pouring from the injury. There was a dark mist that came from her body and flew past me.

            “I never abandoned you!” An unfamiliar voice cried. It almost sounded like the voice Agatha had earlier. Was it that Leif guy she mentioned? “I come now to join you in Hell!”  

            Dropping the crossbow, I rushed to Jacqueline to make sure she was okay. She was shaking and crying, but appeared unscathed. I pulled her into a tight hug and tried consoling her. She pulled away and fell next to Agatha’s body. She wasn’t breathing and remained unmoving as Jacqueline gathered her in her arms.

What madness is this? I had more questions than answers at this point. What would a Viking be doing here, and why? This homestead offers so many questions and so few answers. I should get a priest to put crucifixes up around the house. Merely as a precaution, of course. Anne wouldn’t be opposed.

The brooch fell from Agatha’s pocket. It was cracked in the center and the blood spilled out. It started to pool on the floor and started to sizzle violently.  It looked as if it was being rejected by the environment it was exposed. The pool of blood disappeared as fast as it appeared. A permanent stain was left in its place. I picked up the brooch and placed it inside one of the pocket’s on Agatha’s dress.

            “She’s dead, isn’t she?” whispered Jacqueline. She looked up at me, her eyes filled with tears for her fallen friend. All I could do was nod at her. It didn’t feel good to have to kill another child. Another Sterling. I owed it to her family to bring the body back. However, I would have to lie. Again. There’s no way they would believe this, even with Jacqueline backing me up. It was too unnatural and absurd.

            ‘You know we’ll have to bring Agatha and Batcher’s bodies back to their families. It’s the right thing to do. But we cannot tell them the truth. We would be hung on the spot,” I explained to Jacqueline. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to start over somewhere new. Far from here.” Her eyes widened at this comment.

            “But why? I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. She brushed a strand of hair from Agatha’s face.

            I knelt beside her. “Life isn’t fair sometimes. I have a bad feeling this is far from over. But for now, the horrors seem to be settled. Come now, we will need to retrieve Batcher’s body and cleaned them up a little bit before. We will also need to corroborate a convincing story to the Sterling’s and Borne’s.”

            Picking up Agatha’s body, I led Jacqueline out of the room, and we made our way downstairs. I told her to start cleaning up the body as I went to recover Batcher’s body. As I walked out of the house, the sun was starting to come up. We didn’t have much time. After bringing his body into the house, we got to work making them as presentable as we could manage. Jacqueline and I decided on the following tale: while making their way back to Norwich, the three of them were attacked by a group of bandits. Batcher was shot in the knee to prevent him from escaping, then stabbed to death as he tried protecting the girls. The rogues kidnapped Agatha and Jacqueline was able to escape them. She would come across my house as she was trying to flee. I would help tend to her wounds and while trying to hunt down the rogues, we would discover Agatha’s corpse.  As Jacqueline and I loaded up a cart with the bodies to take to town, we didn’t notice the two shadows staring at us from the kitchen window.

Betrayal Legacy: Prologue

A Witch Hunt, 1666

A shot rang out in the night, followed by an anguished scream. If anyone would have been in those dark woods, they would have run as far away as they could. However, if they were brave enough, they would have seen the corpse of a young adult male. A single shot in his abdomen. It was the body of Thatcher Borne, the son of the late Henry Borne who was one of the founders of nearby Norwich, Connecticut.

Ivy Sterling didn’t mean to kill him. She had been out in the woods gathering chamomile and ginger roots per her mother’s request. Ivy’s sister, Grace had fallen ill and the usual remedies weren’t helping. When she plucked another root, she saw something shining in the dead tree trunk. She peered down and saw a small pistol.

“What is this?” She carefully picked up the gun and examined it. “Wonder why someone would put a gun in here.” Ivy heard an owl screech nearby, causing her to jump. She looked around, then looked back down at the gun. “Well. No one has lived out here for so long. I don’t think it would hurt to borrow it. I could return it in the morning.” She placed the gun in the bottom of her basket and continued her task.

 As Ivy was finishing up, she heard more rustling, shortly followed by giggling. She stood up and thought it wouldn’t hurt to investigate. There was someone else out here this late at night? She thought. As she got closer, she saw two figures behind a tree: Thatcher with Josephine Rosenthal. She had a reputation for being the town courtesan. Just like Thatcher, her father, Jacques Rosenthal, was another founder of the town. They appeared to be getting intimate. Ivy didn’t want to disturb them so she quietly backed away. However, she stepped on a branch and Josephine’s giggling stopped.

“Who’s out there?” Thatcher yelled out. “It’s pretty rude to spy!”

Ivy made an attempt to avoid being seen, but she heard Josephine yell that she could see someone, and she saw them coming toward her.  When Thatcher and Josephine saw who it was, Ivy heard him chuckle. “It’s just the young Sterling girl. She’s not a threat. But it is odd. Why would a child be out so late at night?”

“Exactly! Shouldn’t you be in bed, little girl?” Josephine sneered. “Probably out here performing some eerie custom.” She pointed to the basket Ivy was carrying. “What’s all in there? Some animal bones? A vial of blood?”

Ivy gathered up her courage. “No, Ms. Rosenthal. All that is in this basket is chamomile and ginger roots. You see, my sister – “

“Needs them for her next potion? Why can’t she come out here and do it herself?” mocked Josephine. “Why send out her little sister to do it for her. Unless…”

Confused, Ivy asked, “Unless what? She’s really sick and my mother asked me to gather these plants to make a remedy.”

“But it’s so late at night. Why was this not done when there was light? Why are you out here alone?” Thatcher smirked at her. “It’s not safe for a little girl to be out here alone. There are all kinds of dangers you could come across.”

Ivy started to feel nervous. “M-m-my sister’s health t-t-took a turn. T-this was a m-m-moment’s decision. B-but you’re r-r-right. I need t-to get home. It is l-l-late.” She turned away from the couple and started to walk away, clutching the basket close to her. One of them pushed her, causing her to drop her basket, spilling its contents on the ground.

“Come on, Josie. Think we let her be now. However, what is this?” Ivy froze. The gun. Before Thatcher could grab it, she made a dive for it and snatched it.

“Hmm. Why would a child need a gun? There is no way this is yours, Sterling! Where did you get it? Where did you steal it from?”

Ivy remained silent. She didn’t know what to say or do. All she knew was that she was terrified and felt things could get violent if she didn’t do something.

Thatcher grabbed her arm. “I asked you a question! Where did you steal this gun from, you little bitch!”

She didn’t recall pulling the trigger. Ivy didn’t know she had it pointed it at him and that it was loaded. A bullet fired and went clean through Thatcher Borne’s body. It killed him instantly.

“You killed him! Witch! Sorceress!” Josephine screamed. “We were only joking around with you, but now I see the rumors were true! It can only explain why a child is out here so late at night, gathering strange herbs and doing so all alone. The Sterling’s are dabbling in black magic!”

“No! You don’t understand. Josephine, I swear…my sister…she’s really sick. I’m gathering plants to make a medicine to help her,” Ivy pleaded.

            “That’s what a witch would want me to think! You’re going to be in so much trouble! I’m going to find Mr. Porter. He’ll see that you’ll be hung for your crimes!” Josephine took off running on the path toward Norwich.  Ivy panicked.  She didn’t need to have her family’s name further stained by another lie.  Picking up her basket of herbs, she ran after Josephine.

Thacker Porter was not a man to be trifled. His family was one of the first to arrive in Norwich and help turn it into the town it was today. The Porter’s became prominent in the town before tragedy struck: he was the lone survivor after a mysterious illness claimed the lives of his family. As a result, he became bitter and reclusive. He left Norwich and was living in the woods not far from town. It brought too many painful memories for him to remain there. His family had counted on him to protect them, but he felt he failed and needed to suffer alone. 

He was gathering wood he chopped earlier when he heard a popping sound, followed by someone screaming. In all honesty, he wasn’t going to check it out. There were a lot of people who came into these woods to mess around. He was running behind schedule. However, he heard someone yelling his name. He set the pile down and looked around. He saw Josephine, her red hair flying all over as she ran down the path.  He heard her calling for him frantically. He noticed her face was flushed and blood splattered on her dress. Where did that blood come from, he wondered? Why would she be out here so late at night? It was apparent she was alone and clearly wasn’t out here hunting animals or gathering supplies. She was running from something, but what?

His heard more noise and saw a younger girl running after Josephine.  She looked no older than 13. She looked familiar to him, but couldn’t place who she was. The younger girl looked terrified as she ran after the other one. Thacker saw the small gun in her hand, and concern filled him. Two shots rang in the air, followed by two distinctly different screams. Josephine knew she wasn’t long for this life. Given her profession, she knew there were risk and took as many precautions as possible. But never did she see herself dying in the hands of a child.

            “Should have never taken the Borne boy up on his offer”, she shuddered as her eyes closed for the last time. “Wasn’t worth all this trouble…”

Thacker silently made his way behind a large tree about 200 yards away. He heard the sound of rapid footsteps as he saw the younger girl running away from the murder. She looked scared and blood stained her dress. He could no longer see the gun.

“Hey!” He decided to make his presence known. He heard her yelp in alarm and whipped around to see him.

“Please sir! I didn’t mean to! I didn’t shoot the gun!” Ivy pled. “It went off on its own! I didn’t kill her!” She broke down crying, scared to think what was going to happen to her.  Surely, she was going to be hung.

Thacker approached the crying girl slowly and got down on his knees to seem less threatening to her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and made her look up at him.

“Let’s start at the beginning. I’m sure there’s some kind of explanation to what’s going on here.” He could feel her shaking. She was clearly scared but he needed to get to the bottom of this. “What is your name? Why are you out here all by yourself?”

Ivy took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. “I am Ivy Sterling. I was only out here gathering chamomile and ginger roots to help my sister. She has fallen ill. That’s why I’m out here. I know it seems strange since it is so late, but it’s urgent, sir. She may not make it to the morning.”

            Thacker saw the basket filled with said plants; she was telling the truth. “What else happened? Who else was out here?”

            “I was collecting the last of the ginger when I saw two people nearby. They were…exchanging affections with one another. I was trying to let them be, but I stepped on a branch and got their attention.  After scolding me for bothering them, they asked me why I was out so late. They started accusing me of being a witch.”  She started to tear up again as she rehashed the memories. “They threatened to hurt me. I tried getting away, but they grabbed at me and that’s when the gun…I had found it inside a tree trunk earlier…went off and killed Mr. Borne. I swear I didn’t pull the trigger.”

            “You found a pistol inside a tree trunk? Are you sure?” Thacker interrupted her, confused by this revelation. He had been out here for a while and gathered everything that may have been left behind; not once had he found a pistol in a tree trunk.

            “I thought it to be strange too, but I swear on my father’s grave,” Ivy said quickly.  “I didn’t even know it was loaded. I followed after Josephine because I didn’t want to be blamed for something I didn’t do. I promise this is true. I wasn’t going to kill her.” She broke down crying again.

            Thacker wasn’t sure what to believe. On the one hand, this girl was clearly scared and didn’t appear to have malice intent to harm anyone. But on the other side, he had never had issues with a gun erratically discharging. She was being threatened with her life as well, and while in his eyes it was grounds to defend yourself, it should be a last resort. He had made his decision.

            “I believe you. But we will need to report this to the constable,” Thacker stood up, pulling her up to stand.

            “But I didn’t kill them! I swear!” Ivy ripped her arm away and took off running deeper into the woods. She needed to get home. She wasn’t going to be blamed for something that wasn’t her fault.  She could hear Thacker shouting for her to come back but she refused to turn around. The fog was getting thicker, and it was hard for Ivy to see anything.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a glimmer of white light and headed that way. A lone tree stood in the clearing, its size intimidating.

            She felt a strange presence near this tree. That wasn’t the only strange thing she noticed: the giant tree was in full bloom. Nearby trees were long dead due to an early frost. It was also eerily quiet, as if this place was inside a bubble and in its own space. Ivy knew she had to hide as she couldn’t outrun Thacker. She grabbed the lowest tree limb and began to climb up to hide herself in the vegetation. Once she was concealed, she heard heavy footsteps from who she assumed was Thacker looking for her.

            “Come on kid. I know you’re nearby. You can’t outrun me,” he shouted. He glanced around to see if there was any movement. As Ivy was trying to adjust herself, her foot hit a branch, causing some of the leaves to rustle a little. She could see Thacker looking right at her, but he didn’t appear to see Ivy herself.  He pulled out his own pistol and went to the base of the giant tree.

            “I know you’re up there. I’m not going to kill you as long as you let me know it is you.” Thacker said softly as he looked up.

            As Ivy was going to respond, she felt something slither down her leg; a vine from the tree had moved on its own and wrapped itself around her ankle. She was pulled back violently and found herself hanging upside down, the vine being the only thing keeping her from falling 20 feet. She let out a scream. “Let me go! Mr. Porter, please help me!”

            Thacker was at a loss for words at the scene in front of him. Pulling his knife out, he tried slicing away the binds to free Ivy. But as soon as he’d make a cut, the plant would begin to heal itself at a rapid pace. He had never seen anything like it.  What kind of sorcery is this? He asked himself as he decided to abandon the knife and use his hands to rip it apart. He was able to get enough off to free Ivy and decided to take off out of the woods. He made it to the edge of the clearing when he found himself unable to leave.

            “What is going on?” screamed Ivy. She was quickly snatched away from him again, but he managed to grab her arm. “Help me! Please!” She managed to grab the pistol that was tucked under her dress and fired at the vine, but nothing happened. She squeezed the trigger again, and she got the same result. “I can’t fire the gun! I think it’s jammed!”

            Thacker refused to let go, but his grip was slowly slipping. “Ivy, get down!” He shouted as he withdrew his pistol and aimed at the vine.  Ivy managed to move herself enough to him to get a shot. He made his mark: the vine gave slack and released Ivy from its grasp; however, she was hurled past Thacker. He heard a sickening sound and saw that she was impaled by a tree limb right in her stomach. Ivy didn’t scream, but she was gasping for air.

            “Ivy! Oh no…” Rushing over to her, he assessed the situation. It wasn’t good; the branch went clean through. Trying to remove her would most likely cause her to bleed out.

            “Don’t.” She whispered. She had gone pale, eyes starting to glaze over. “It’s in pretty deep. It doesn’t hurt as bad as you think”.

            “But we have to get you off of this branch. You’ll surely die if you stay here,” said Thacker. “I’m so sorry for what happened.”

            She shook her head slightly and looked at him. “We both know I’ll die if you try. You were trying to save me from that…thing. I didn’t know plants could attack like that.”  She inhaled sharply and clutched at the branch impaling her. “I know I won’t live. Can you please shoot me? I don’t want to suffer.”

            Thacker glanced at his gun. He knew it was the humane thing to do, but he didn’t want to give up on saving the girl. There was still a chance…

            “Please, Mr. Porter. I don’t want to hurt anymore. If I could…I’d shoot myself, but I suppose that isn’t very lady like.” She let out a strained chuckle. “But I beg you. Please inform my family what happened and how you tried to save me.  They will understand.”

            He sighed heavily and cocked his gun. “Though I don’t agree with this, I know you’re right. I didn’t want to tell you that, but you’re wise. I can’t deny a lady her dying wish.”

            Ivy closed her eyes. “Thank you, Mr. Porter. Thank you.”

He squeezed the trigger; a shot rang out into the night. Ivy Sterling’s body lifelessly slumped forward.

“It was what she requested and you granted a dying girl her final wish. You didn’t let her suffer. You did a good thing,” Thacker told himself. It didn’t stop the dreadful feeling from entering his heart, and he let his gun fall to the ground.

            “Yes, you did a good thing, Mr. Thacker Porter,” a mysterious voice said. Thacker snapped his head up to see a translucent figure standing next to Ivy’s body. “Everything that has happened tonight has happened for a reason. All will be revealed in time. Maybe not in your lifetime, but everything will make sense.”

            Thacker was at a loss for words. Still he noticed how the “body” of this figure resembled the vines that had grabbed Ivy. “You killed that girl! What the fuck are you?” he demanded.  Instead of answering him, the figure handed Thacker a bundle of papers, one which had “Deed – Porter” scrawled in silver writing and an emerald crest with a falcon in its center.

            “I don’t understand. There are no other homes out here other than my own.” Thacker was perplexed.

            “You are gravely mistaken. Please come with me, Thacker Porter. I will not harm you. In fact, this is the fortunate thing that could happen to you.” The figure walked out of the woods and started up the hill. Thacker hesitantly followed, his hand remaining on his gun. A lone house stood at the top of the hill, near the outskirts of the woods. There was no sign of life and looked as if it has been there for some time. Thacker was more confused. He knows this area. Surely, he would have seen this abandoned house at some point.

            “Now you officially possess this beautiful home and its secrets, Thacker Porter. If I were you, I’d start gathering information and supplies. By the way, I am the one who started the rumor of the Sterling’s to be involved in witchcraft. There was no witch at all; it was the start of something much grander. But the first thing you need to do is dispose of the bodies. But word of warning: let’s hope the dead stay buried.”