Here’s one from the vaults. Written in 2010, after a random conversation with someone who was then one of my tutors, now a friend – Robin – which somehow wound up about how terrifying it would be to be in a house alone and just hear a creepy laugh.
So I started with that idea in mind, but what actually came out was a fairly long story, in which I deal with some of my past – in this case rape.
Obligatory Trigger Warning!!!!!
As always, I beg you not to read if it’s going to be a problem for you, but the choice is yours.
It’s not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done, but it has some powerful moments, and some disturbing ones.
That’s enough of that, read on!
For more short stories, click here!
Vengeance Never Ends
by Lee Hulme
Casey strolled along the quiet street, enjoying the relative silence and the clear, crisp winter air. She pursed her lips and blew, smiling at the plume of steam her breath made as it hit the freezing air. Warm as toast, wrapped up in layers of clothing, gloved hands thrust deep into the pockets of her thick, long coat, thermal-lined beanie covering her hair, she looked up at the sky and tilted her head at the moon, squinting to see the face that was supposed to be the man. Seeing nothing but blotches, she turned her attention to the stars instead, drawing lines from pinprick to pinprick, creating her own pictures in the sky.
Eventually her large circular stroll brought her back home and after watching the sky until it vanished behind the bricks and mortar of her small, old, creaky house – attached on one side to another old and creaky house that had been empty for long enough that the overgrown front garden had begun to overgrow into Casey’s concreted yard – she shook herself back to reality, unlocked the front door and went inside, quickly tapping in her number on the keypad that disabled the alarm. Locking and bolting the door again behind her –a young woman living alone can never be too careful, she had made sure the alarm was installed and working before she moved in – she manoeuvred easily in the dark until she reached the living room, where she finally flipped on a light, went through to the kitchen and flipped on another.
As she leaned her elbows against the counter, chin on her hands, waiting for the kettle to boil so she could make up a cup of tea to warm her pleasantly tingling extremities, a soft noise startled her and she straightened up quickly, looking around. Seeing nothing, she shrugged and went back to watching the kettle – the creaky old house was full of random noises, most of the time she could never work out what they were or where they came from.
The kettle boiled and Casey filled the cup, poking the teabag with a spoon to encourage flavour into the hot water and milk combo. When the colour was dark enough, she lifted the teabag out on the spoon and squeezed it with finger and thumb, wincing at the burning sensation she felt every single time she did this. “Need some teabag holders or…asbestos fingers or something.” She muttered, knowing she would probably carry on doing the same thing until the day she died, tilting the spoon and dropping the teabag with a plop onto the metal side of the sink to let it dry.
Taking the cup of tea, she settled herself on the sofa, sliding a coaster close enough to rest the cup on and picking up the book she had been reading before deciding to take a walk. Curling her feet beneath her, she opened the book and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she began to read, slowly losing herself in the story.
The sound came again, louder this time though still unclear, and she looked up sharply. Seeing nothing again, she frowned slightly. The house made many noises, some regular that she knew well enough, others she heard once or twice and never again, but she had learned that new sounds being repeated often a warned her of something about to go wrong in the old place.
Casey relaxed and looked back at her book with a yawn. She considered for a moment, then closed it and put it back on the table, picking up the now-empty teacup and taking it to drop in the sink. For a moment, she stood still, looking down into the empty cup, then for no reason she shuddered, feeling goosebumps ripple up and down her arms and neck. She rubbed her arms absently and shook her head, looking up at the kitchen window where, instead of seeing the kitchen and herself reflected back at her, she locked onto a white face, staring in at her from the other side.
Casey shouted and jumped back, then dived for the door, fumbling with the keys in the lock to turn them, flinging the door open and leaping outside, eyes darting around the backyard, now bathed in the glow from the security light.
There was nobody there. Frowning, she went to the wooden gate, set into the fence that was taller than she was, to check the inside bolt. It was closed, just as she always left it, so nobody could get in from the other side.
As she stood still at the gate, telling herself it was a good job there was nobody outside because she was stupid enough to run out unarmed, the security light flicked off again and Casey jumped in the darkness, making it flick straight back on. Frowning, she turned and looked up at it, squinting against the glare. She went over it in her mind: the gate was still bolted, and the movement sensor in the light had picked up nothing until she herself had stepped outside. Even if somebody had somehow clambered over the huge gate or fence, and had managed to clamber back over it again within the few seconds it had taken her to throw open the door, the light would have switched on the second they moved within its range.
Casey rubbed her eyes and trailed back inside, “Tired. Too tired,” she mumbled, locking the door again and turning out the kitchen light, then the living room light on the way through, replacing them with the landing light, then replacing that with the bedroom and bathroom lights.
A few minutes later Casey climbed into bed, the incident in the kitchen already fading, the strange noises from earlier already forgotten.
The following evening, arriving home after a late day at work, Casey slumped down on the sofa and flicked the tv on, thumbing through the channels and grimacing occasionally at the rubbish that was on. Eventually she flicked it off again and let her head drop backwards onto the back of the sofa, closing her eyes. “Not gonna sleep…” she murmured thickly, “Jus restin’…”
A while later, she jerked awake and sat up, looking around. Groaning, realising she had, of course, fallen asleep; she rubbed at her eyes and wondered vaguely what had woken her. A noise of some sort, she thought, but could not quite place what. With a slight shrug, she got up and went to the kitchen to put the kettle on. It was late, but after napping like that there was little point in attempting to get to bed for a while. Therefore, she would drink tea and read, as usual, until she got to feeling sleepy. As the kettle boiled, Casey yawned a few times and rubbed again at her eyes, waking up slowly. She felt a slight breeze on the back of her neck and reached back to rub at it absently. When the breeze tickled her a second time she looked around, frowning slightly, but the kettle boiled and she made her tea, forgetting again.
When she was once again settled on the sofa, Casey slowly lost herself in the story until the breeze came a third time, just the lightest finger on the nape of her neck, making her shiver and jump up, the book dropping from her hands, forgotten. She ran around the ground floor of the house, checking for open windows but finding none. Back in the living room she shook her head – old houses were draughty, this one always had been. Though she’d never felt a draft quite like this one, almost like somebody blowing on the back of her head, still, that must be what it was – what else could it be? She settled back down with her book, sighing softly.
A few minutes passed in peace, and then the noise from the previous night came again, louder this time, sounding close by. Casey jumped up again, the book hitting the floor for the second time, the noises and face that had slipped her mind returning. She looked around with a start, and then threw back the living room curtains, peering through the window that looked onto the garden. There was nothing – nobody, she corrected herself silently – there.
Again, she felt the breeze on the back of her neck, this time accompanied by the sound, more distinct now, like soft, gurgling, barely suppressed laughter, and it was right behind her!
Casey spun round, eyes wide, hands raised against the unseen foe – but there was nothing but an empty room. She backed up slowly, putting her back to the corner of the wall, seeing the room in its entirety. Empty. Just her- as always, just her.
Cautiously, keeping side-on to the living room, Casey edged to the window, turning her head towards the garden and slowly letting her eyes follow. Her gaze flicked towards the glass and away, then back again, meeting the eyes of the glaring white face, just inches away from her, its gaze burning back into her skull.
Casey drew in breath to scream but as she did, her gaze flicked away from the window and back again. Suddenly the garden was empty. She put her hands on the windowsill and stared outside, squinting against the reflection caused by the living room light into the darkness of the garden. There was nothing.
Her breathing beginning to slow, Casey let her head drop. “Seeing things…just…tired. Just tired,” she assured herself, somewhat shakily.
The gurgled chuckle came again, the air this time moving gently across her left ear, touching her cheek.
Casey screamed and threw herself backwards, hitting the wall with a thud, hands flung out against the empty air.
The room was still empty, but Casey refused to believe her eyes. “Where are you!” she cried, hoarsely. “I know there’s somebody here!”
No reply came. The house was silent except for her own ragged breathing and the terrified beating of her heart.
The next day, after a night spent huddled, sleepless, under the duvet, the bed pushed into a corner of the room, the overhead light on, chasing away the shadows, Casey called in sick to work, feigning a hoarse cough, and headed out to the library. Though she had lived in the house for over two years now, she had never explored its history. Now she wondered if, perhaps, there was something there that explained the strange phenomenon. Not that she was suddenly believing in ghosts or anything, she reminded herself, but there were other theories that went along with houses where bad or sad or violent things had happened, and maybe – just maybe – there was something to those. Perhaps the house had absorbed some things, and for some reason had now decided to let them out again. Perhaps there were echoes, shadows of past events, playing out, like a recording. Perhaps some sort of latent psychic power was being triggered. Maybe she was going insane – even that would be both more preferable and more likely then ghosts, she thought. The idea of actual spirits – dead and sentient and trying to scare her for some unknown purpose; actual deceased souls with malevolent intent, or stuck on this plane unable to move – all of that was Hollywood film crap. It didn’t exist in anything outside of film or book. Fiction. Yet…something was going on – and she would find herself a logical explanation for it.
She sat down behind the microfiche machine, scanning through old newspapers, looking for anything about the house. Half an hour of this and she was exhausted – she needed to narrow the search. Switching to a computer instead, she began searching the internet and the library archives for any information about her house or its previous occupants. What she found did not exactly fill her with comfort. Since the house was built, it seemed that around once in a decade whoever was living there either killed other people, killed themselves, went insane – or some combination of the three. The few who had ever managed to utter an intelligible sentence to somebody during or after the events all spoke of a presence – a maddening chuckle, a staring face – and went on to hint at worse things, darker things – things that had been the cause of whatever horrible acts they had committed. It looked to Casey like she was in the friendliest stage of whatever it was that did this every few years. The suggestion of more – of worse – to come made her shudder silently.
Casey made a few photocopies of the most relevant parts and rolled them up under her arm, reluctant to return home but now at a loss for what to do next. She had no friends that she could talk to about something like this – there were some drinking buddies, some work colleagues, a myriad of old and new acquaintances, but nobody close enough to risk such a revelation – and nobody, so far as she was aware, who might themselves have an interest anything quite so strange. Abnormal – maybe. Paranormal, not so much. Yet, there had to be somebody, somewhere, who would believe her, maybe even be able to help her. Paranormal investigators, or psychics and mediums – they were the ones, they looked at all this sort of stuff and then either disproved it or made it stop, right? Right. So that’s where she’d go.
At home, she fired up the laptop and started hunting for somebody in the area. A number of results popped up, but a wider search seemed to suggest that nobody else had much of an opinion of them. Eventually, she registered on a forum that seemed to know about these things, gave an outline of the problem, and asked if there was anyone or anywhere that they, as people more knowledgeable than herself, could direct her toward.
She sat for a while, refreshing the page, waiting for a reply, before sighing and closing the lid. Obviously, those in the know were not currently online, and patience was required. With a cup of tea, Casey curled up as usual with her book, attempting to sink into the story. After reading the same paragraph repeatedly for a while, she gave up and put it down, swinging herself round to turn on the tv. There was nothing good on,- but looking through her DVD collection she found a light-hearted film and let it play while she made a cup of tea and sat down with a book of word-searches to keep her hands busy while she watched.
Some way into the film, the picture on the tv began to flicker and fade. Casey looked up from her puzzle book and frowned. It was not skipping or fuzzing, as if the connection was struggling, it was just fading slowly – had been for a while, she realised now. Standing, she fiddled with the connections a little anyway, and then stopped the film to check the live channels. The pictures were clear, the reception changing only when she removed the aerial and the screen showed a “No Signal” message, replaced by yet more faded picture when she plugged it back in again. Turning the DVD back on showed no difference, the picture was still fading.
Casey frowned again, wondering if her TV was about to die. It was an old one – she had wanted to replace it with a new flatscreen for a while now, and a dead TV would be the perfect excuse to do so. The picture faded even further, until the screen showed only black, and Casey stood back and stared at it with a frown.
Then the picture returned, but not of anything that had been on it before. Though the film was still playing in the DVD player, this picture was of the back of somebody’s head and shoulders. The somebody had a short mop of hair and shoulders covered in something of a dark navy colour. As she watched, the figure turned around slowly, revealing not a face but a shiny-white skull, cleaned entirely of flesh, with deep sockets empty of eyes. Without a tongue, somehow it spoke through the clicking of its dry jaw.
“Casey! Casey! You will obey me! Obey or I will haunt you forever!”
Casey stared at the screen, unable to move or speak. The skull glared at her and thundered;
Casey yelped and jumped back a step. “Wh-what?” she whispered.
“O-OK…what…what do you want me to do?”
“When you are ready, you will know.”
The picture faded away again to the sound of laughter and the film returned. Casey saw none of this; she stared through the screen into nothing, trembling and pale-faced. Slowly she shuffled backwards until she hit the sofa with the back of her legs and collapsed gratefully into it, curling up into a ball and closing her eyes to shut out the world. In that position, exhaustion overcame her and she fell into an uneasy sleep.
Waking as the dawn light crept through the curtains, Casey uncurled with a groan as her bones crackled in protest. She looked around in bleary confusion for a few moments before her gaze settled on the TV, with the DVD player running through its endless cycle on the menu screen, and remembered. She gave a shudder and jumped up to switch everything off, knowing it would make no difference if the…the thing, that spirit wanted to speak to her again.
She brightened a little when she checked the forum and found a recommendation, followed by a number of agreements, directing her to a sensitive of some sort only a few miles away. She noted the number and address and made some tea then sat down to read again, watching the clock and waiting for the hour to become sociable enough for her to make the phone call.
At 10 o’clock, she decided that she had waited long enough and picked up the phone. Saying nothing of her problem, she persuaded the softly spoken woman on the other end to see her that afternoon, both preparing her and piquing her curiosity by peppering the conversation with a few hints of something otherworldly. That done, she looked around the house and decided she would rather spend the next 4 hours anywhere but there, so she grabbed her book, keys and wallet and headed out.
Sat in a coffee shop halfway between her house and the sensitive’s, Casey sipped hot tea while watching the world go by outside her window. Slowly her thoughts turned outwards to the people walking by and, as usual, she began to imagine who they were. This mother scolding the children; probably beat them in private. This suited man on the mobile phone; probably arranging a date with his mistress. That handful of teenagers, hooded and sullen; probably looking for their next helpless target to kick to a pulp in an alley and record on their phones.
She shook herself mentally and closed her eyes. What was that about? She played this game often, inventing stories for people – but happy lives and joyful occasions, not those things!
Ah, but the truth about people was not happy and joyful – the truth was dark and cruel. She was probably closer to the mark on each of them today than she ever was before. Look at this man walking in the coffee shop, strolling slowly past her, head tilted to look at her, eyes rolling down her front searching for something to take home to his dirty, rotten fantasies. He’d likely tie her down and rape her given the chance.
At this thought, with a sudden cold fear of where it might go, Casey shook her head violently and leapt to her feet, leaving the rest of her tea to go cold as she raced out of the shop. She strode along the pavement, head down, not bothering to look up or apologise to the people she crashed into, afraid of what thoughts would come into her head about them. Blankly she moved as fast as she could, trying to escape her own mind, but ending up, without realising it, at the home of the sensitive. Early, by two hours, but where else could she go now? Some dark spirit was inside her mind, driving her to these thoughts, and she could not wait any longer!
The door opened to her frantic knock and Casey forgot her fear for a moment in surprise at the figure who answered. Far from the short, wrinkled, jingling gypsy she had pictured, the sensitive was tall and stocky, fresh-faced and dressed in old jeans and a sweater, her dark hair with a single red streak running through it pulled back into a ponytail.
“Hello…” the sensitive said in the same softly spoken voice that Casey had heard on the phone.
“Hi!” Casey gasped, suddenly realising that she did not know the other woman’s name. “Sorry. I’m early, but I couldn’t, I needed to get away – I can wait, just, please let me be somewhere safe until I can see you?”
The other woman took this in with no more than a slight rising of one eyebrow and then nodded, stepping back from the door. “Casey. Come in, it’s fine, I’ll see you now. I was doing a few things but if it’s this urgent, they can wait. You should have told me how bad things were: I would have seen you immediately.”
Casey hopped inside and nodded. “I-I didn’t know how much I could tell you, or how much you’d believe. I wanted to wait till you couldn’t just hang up on me.”
The woman chuckled. “You could still have told me it was urgent. But no matter, here you are now, we can use this room, take a seat and I’ll be there in a few moments with some tea. Would you like tea?”
Casey nodded. “Please. Yes. Please. Oh, I don’t even know your name, I never asked.”
“Milly,” the woman said, smiling softly. She motioned Casey into the room again and disappeared through another door.
Casey brushed aside a screen of hanging beads and walked through a dark doorway into a velvet-draped room. A gentle smell of incense wafted around her and she took a deep breath, taking in the relaxing scent, closing her eyes for a moment then opening them, letting them adjust to the gloom. Eventually she made out some shadowy shapes – two chairs and a table – and she took one, looking around at the drapes over the walls.
After a few minutes Milly re-entered, carrying a tray loaded with the makings of real leaf tea, something Casey had not had in years. She confessed this with a wry smile.
“I guess I succumbed to the age of efficiency and on-demand a little more than I realised.”
Milly chuckled. “Oh, we all have our little vices – things that make our lives easier. I might have brought you proper tea here, but I got the hot water out of one of those fancy new instant hot water kettles.”
Casey grinned as she set about making the tea for both of them. Milly leaned back in her chair let her do so, seeming to sense that the old ritual was a comfort to her client.
When both women were settled with their drinks, Milly spoke again.
“Tell me why it is you came to me, Casey. I can see that something is scaring you – and badly. I’ll help if I can but I need you to tell me everything – now and for the duration of this.”
Casey nodded and launched into the events leading up to the moment she landed at Milly’s front door. Milly sat quietly until the end before asking a few clarifying questions, and then the two sat in silence for a few moments.
“So what is it you want me to do, Casey? If you have some dark, and overly dramatic, spirit haunting that house of yours – and it has gotten inside your head – are you asking me to remove it? I can’t get it out of your house until it’s out of your head, but you must know that’s incredibly dangerous. It’s like removing a tumour from your brain. The surgery could kill you, the after-effects could kill you, some unseen complication could kill you, the tumour could be latched onto something essential but we won’t know until it’s too late and that’ll kill you, or we could get it all out safely and then it could grow right back again and kill you before anyone can do anything about it. And of course, the biggest difference between a tumour and this is that a tumour can’t fight back – this thing can.”
Casey looked at her for a moment then spoke firmly. “Just promise me that whatever happens, you will get rid of this thing – whether I’m alive to know it or not, just stop it from getting to the next person who moves into that house.”
Milly studied her for a moment, then nodded. “You have my word on that.”
“Ok. So what do I need to do?”
“Well first of all,” said Milly thoughtfully, “You need to not go home. Secondly, you need to stay away from people. So I guess for the moment you’re staying here – until we’re sure it’s safe.”
“And if I turn on you…?” Casey asked cautiously.
Milly smiled. “It may try to, when I start to operate. Until then I should be safe,” she studied Casey’s doubtful expression. “Until the moment I focus this spirit’s attentions specifically on myself, it won’t even notice me as a threat. Casey if you can’t trust me in this, you’ll never trust me in everything else we have to do.”
Casey nodded. “OK, OK, you’re protected, I got it. I’m sorry.”
Milly shook her head slightly and smiled. “Right, so you’re staying here. I hope there’s nothing you urgently need from home because I’m afraid you’ll be doing without for the moment. Anything you need right now, give me a list and I’ll buy it – but neither you, nor I, nor anyone else, is setting foot inside that house until it’s time.”
“How will you do this, Milly? How will you get this thing outta my head, and then stop it from hurting anyone else?”
Milly inclined her head slightly. “At your house, when all is ready, first I’ll put you into a light hypnotic trance – just enough to open your mind to me. Then I’ll perform a ritual that will call the spirit forth and force it to manifest, which will both remove it from your head and make it visible to us. Next-“
“Wait…” Casey interrupted, eyes widening in alarm. “You’re going to make this thing solid?!”
“No! No, not at all!” Milly reassured her quickly. “It’ll be visible, it won’t be corporeal. After that, you’ll come out of your trance to assist me with the next part. This will be the hardest bit. We’ll need to perform a second ritual to banish the spirit from this plane. During this, though we will be protected to stop it harming us directly, it will try everything else it can. However, we will be in an empty room, and the walls, floor and ceiling will be protected much as we are, so the spirit will have to stay in there with us. It’ll thunder, and it’ll scare the pants off of both of us – but it won’t be able to hurt either of us in any way. It is essential you remember that, because we have to ignore anything it tries to do to distract us, anything it tries to show us, any lies it tries to tell us or any scary thing it tries to do – we have to ignore them and do the ritual, no matter what – understand?”
Casey nodded firmly.
“Alright. Once the spirit is banished, to finally get it to where it needs to be – where it should have gone long ago – we will need to find whatever remains of the earthly body, sprinkle it with salt, and burn it. That will break its hold on our world and force it to enter the world beyond.”
“How are we supposed to do that to the body when we don’t even know who this spirit used to be?”
“That is one of the tasks we have before us. If we can trace back the history of that house – of the site itself, the land – and find the very first incident, the very first thing that went wrong, then whoever was at the centre of it, that is our spirit. Then we check parish records for burial information.”
Casey smiled softly. “Sounds like you really know what you’re doing.”
Milly shrugged. “I have to know how to do these things – just as much as I have to pray I never need to. Unfortunately, though, it sort of comes with the territory.”
“Have you done many of them?”
“Mostly haunting – they’re most common. No malice in them, usually, just a stuck spirit needing a little guidance. Some hang on through force of will, but most of those are easily pried off. Of those that are more difficult, most have only just enough will to remain and do the smallest things to affect the world, usually by feeding on the erratic energy of another-“
“Oh! That whole ‘poltergeists are really just distressed teenagers’ thing?”
“Right –they’re actually usually a bit of both,” Milly smiled for a moment then grew serious again. “Some, however, possess enough stubbornness and hatred to give them the strength to gain real power. Those are few, but very dangerous – and yours seems to be one of those. A spirit of this type I’ve seen only once before, when I was a teenager myself, bursting with the gift and apprenticed to my mother…” Milly trailed off, her gaze distant.
Casey opened her mouth to ask what happened, but closed it as she saw the sparkle of sadness in Milly’s eyes, the slump of her shoulders. The answer would be no more reassuring for her than it would be pleasant for Milly to give.
“I have a deeper gift than my mother,” Milly spoke again after a few moments. “And I am both younger and stronger than she was. Just as you are older and stronger than I was – and you have come to me fairly quickly, almost as soon as the spirit began to show itself, in fact. These things are good – they bode well. In fact these things that give me hope of somehow ending this without much more harm coming to us, or anyone else.”
Silence fell once again, stretching out. To Casey the quiet turned the gloom into a solid mass, an almost living thing, pressing in on her. She began to fidget, her hands itching to take hold of the table and throw it at Milly.
Seeming to sense her growing agitation, or perhaps the movement of the dark spirit, Milly stood. “Come on. Let me give you the grand tour; show you where you can sleep. Then I’ll go buy you the stuff you’ll need.”
Casey stood with a grateful smile and followed her out of the room and back into the light.
It took a week of searching through old records before Milly and Casey found what seemed to be the very first incident on the land occupied by Casey’s house. Indeed as Milly had seemed to suspect, the dark spirit was older than Casey had imagined – dating back to the days when instead of a house, a tavern of sorts stood on the spot, serving the rough labourers who broke their backs building the railroad that once stood nearby – though had long since been rebuilt further away.
The tavern owner, it seemed, was a retired navvie himself, who gave his name as Bruce. A shoulder injury on the job had forced him to find other employment – so he had used what remained of his good looks and toned physique to charm his way into the arms of, a rich heiress, who had, to the disgust of her family and friends, married him. With her, came her fortune. With the fortune, the ramshackle tavern was built so the navvies had somewhere to congregate. Here they could find the meat and beer that they had been raised on, as well as company – not to mention the ladies who came by to settle their other appetites. In exchange, he was able to remain around his fellows and earn enough to live by. Whenever the worker camps moved on to the next part of the railroad, he simply enlisted the help of the departing navvies to pick up the pieces of his tavern, loaded them onto two traps – one each for himself and his wife to begin with, the job falling later to their sons – and enlisted a few more at the other end to throw it all together again. There was always cheap drink to be had from a brewery nearby – and though it was rarely good, and often barely beer, the navvies were not fussy fellows. In this way they lived.
Until, so the information suggested, one of the navvies had drunkenly raped Bruce’s 12 year old daughter. There were no details, but it seemed that Bruce and his sons had taken their revenge on the man, and then the navvies had taken their revenge on Bruce and his sons.
Sat at the library table, books and old newspaper prints scattered all over it, the two women looked up at each other.
“Bruce. The father. It’s him, isn’t it? It has to be,” Casey spoke first.
Milly nodded again. “It cannot be any of the others. I felt it as soon as I read his name, and now with the whole story…he’s buried somewhere on your grounds, and he’s apparently still pissed off.”
Casey studied her. “At the man he killed, or the men who killed him?
Milly looked thoughtful. “Both, I’d say, and his hatred, coupled with whatever broke in his head when all this happened, has kept him here, invading people’s minds and driving them insane enough to kill. Only now he doesn’t care who he kills – everyone is fair game.”
“Well…everyone is guilty of something, right?”
Milly nodded slowly, “Sure. We all do some things wrong sometimes. Doesn’t mean anybody else should be allowed to judge us worthy of death for them, though.”
Casey stood and began to pace about the room. “So now we know this, what next? We don’t need to search for his grave ‘cause we know he’s on the property somewhere. So how do we find out where? And is there even gonna be anything left of him by now?”
Milly frowned.”If he has no body, then he has no physical link, but he’s obviously staying here somehow. Maybe it’s the connection to you – and to the others he’s latched onto. Maybe those connections allow him to hang on. So once he’s un-tethered from you and banished, he should be gone,” she paused. “I think. It’s either that or we knock your house down, remove all the rubble, salt every inch of soil then have an enormous bonfire!”
“Let’s not rule that out – if it’s the only way to be rid of him!” Casey said, chuckling softly. “But first we’ll try the other option, which is that he’s using people like me. So who does he use when nobody lives there? It was empty for ages before I moved in.”
“There’s always somebody connected to a house. An estate agent, a contractor, a neighbour, a postman – probably a very weak link, which is why it takes him a while to latch onto someone – especially you, as it’s been a while since he had a direct connection in the house – he has to regain the strength he loses while hanging on by his fingernails. Once we get him out of you and banish him, he won’t be able to create a new link. We’ll do an extra binding ritual, just to be certain, but once left without even a tenuous link – he’ll be sent to where he belongs.”
“You’re sure about all this, then? Absolutely certain? You’re not, by any chance, guessing at some of it because you want it to be truth?”
Milly laughed. “No, it’s all based in knowledge and precedent. I’ve not seen something exactly like this, but you must know, Casey, knowledge doesn’t constitute wisdom – the application of it does, and that I have plenty of experience in.”
“Well alright then. So, when do we do this?”
“Need to get a few supplies first, then you and I need to get some serious rest. So, say two days?”
Casey nodded. “Two days.”
Two days later, in the slight fog of the early morning, Casey and Milly stood outside the house and pushed open the front door. Casey stayed where she was while Milly entered, going into the living room and pulling out everything into the hallway. When the room was emptied, she motioned to Casey, who moved quickly into the room – now bare even of curtains and rug, and closed the door behind her.
Quietly, Milly prepared a binding spell for the room, lighting a handful of incense and drawing symbols on the wall and floor in oil, using a long stick to do the same on the ceiling. This done, she pronounced the room safe.
Next, she sat Casey comfortably on the floor and began to make passes in front of her face, murmuring quietly under her breath. Slowly Casey’s eyes glazed over and her breathing lengthened.
“Casey, do you hear me?” Milly asked softly.
Casey nodded slowly. “I do,” she said in a whisper.
“Good. Know this: that as soon as I touch you on the shoulder, you will wake. You will remember everything, and you will be refreshed, energised, and ready to continue. Do you understand?”
“I do,” Casey repeated with a small smile.
Milly nodded and reached into her bag for a bottle of red paste. “This is a mix of herbs and plants. I need to put some on your face, ok?”
Casey gave a ponderous nod.
Gently, Milly dipped a finger into the bottle and lifted it to Casey’s face, drawing symbols across her cheeks, nose, forehead and mouth, then drew something else on the palm of her right hand. This hand she placed on Casey’s head as she began to chant softly, her intonation rising and falling in a gentle song.
Faintly at first, but growing stronger, a cloudy form began to take shape just behind Casey. It grew taller than the two sat on the ground and, a few moments later, began to take on the definite shape of a person. Milly watched the mist form, her chant rising and falling, becoming more forceful now as she coaxed the spirit out of Casey’s head.
A face formed in the mist, frowning deeply at Milly, who looked back serenely and kept chanting.
“Stop!” a voice crackled out of the mouth.
Milly ignored it and inserted another, stronger, intonation into her chant.
The mist swooped down on her as if to knock her backwards, but Milly sat perfectly still and let it pass straight through her and return to its place behind Casey.
Slowly the mist took on colour, forming itself into the full form of the man Bruce who spoke again. “Stop! I’ll tear her brain out with me if you don’t stop.”
Ignoring him again, Milly caught Casey’s eyes and focused on them, chanting louder now as the mist began to settle into a firm shape.
When the figure was fully manifested, Milly stopped chanting and touched Casey on the shoulder to wake her up.
Casey remained perfectly still.
Milly frowned and tapped her shoulder again. Then the other one. Finally she took hold of both and gave her a gentle shake. “Casey!”
Casey didn’t even flinch when she was shaken. She simply sat, staring straight through Milly, unmoving, uncomprehending.
The figure of Bruce laughed uproariously, “Told you!”
Milly continued to ignore him, placing her hand on Casey’s head again and searching her eyes as she muttered an invocation to bring her back. After a few moments Casey’s eyes flickered, and Milly tapped her shoulder again.
This time Casey snapped immediately into wakefulness, grabbing hold of Milly’s wrist, “Milly…I almost…”
“I know,” Milly whispered back. “But you’re ok, you’re here and you’re safe. He tried to stuff you down so I wouldn’t be able to get you out, but I did. Are you ok to carry on?”
“Alright. Stand up with me…” Milly took her hands and helped her up, walking backwards a few steps so Casey would move with her. “Now, he’s here, and he’s got shape but remember what I said, ok? Don’t turn around yet, let me give you what you need first.”
Casey obeyed while Milly reached into her bag again, taking out two small books and two bottles of coloured oil. Opening the books and unfastening the tops of the bottles, she gave one of each to Casey, keeping the other for herself. “Alright. When you’re ready, turn round and we’ll begin.”
Casey took a deep breath, gripped the book and bottle, and turned to face her dark spirit. The moment their eyes locked, Casey’s entire body froze stiff.
Milly glanced over at her and frowned, putting a hand to her shoulder and finding it solid and unyielding. She looked at the spirit to berate him and saw that he was as stiff and immobile as Casey. Somewhere in the part of her mind that was able to sense such things, Milly felt something passing between the two of them. Worriedly, but knowing that trying to shatter the connection was at least as dangerous as letting whatever this was play out, she took a step back and watched, waiting to see what would happen.
Casey stood before a ramshackle building that looked as if a strong wind would send it crashing down in pieces. Those inside seemed to have no such care, however, as noisy laughter and raucous singing filtered out into the night. Casey felt movement and turned to look, unsurprised to see the spirit of Bruce hovering beside her.
“My tavern,” Bruce said in that distinctive spirit-voice.
Casey nodded as the tavern door swung crookedly open and a tired-looking blonde dressed in grubby red and white dress emerged. Taking her for a prostitute, Casey paid her little attention until she saw the spirit float over and hover close by. Looking more carefully, she saw that the woman’s tiredness gave her at least a decade that she did not possess. Once this woman had probably been beautiful. The wife, Casey guessed now.
Bruce looked sadly at the woman. “She hated me, you know. I seduced her and charmed her and took her from where she belonged. I kept her in a place like this, married to a man like me, when she should have lived in a palace with a prince,” the ghost sighed heavily, watching the woman roll a barrel from around the side of the building and in through the door.
Casey watched in silence, just managing to catch a shouted sentence before the door closed: “Woman! Git in here wi’ that!” Bruce, she presumed, glancing over at the ghost in time to see him flinch at the brash tone in his voice.
The scene changed to daylight, and five figures appeared in the space in front of the tavern. One Casey recognised as Bruce, another as his wife, and she guessed the two young men and the girl as his sons and daughter, confirming this when she saw the likeness of feature they all shared. The boys and girl were playing something involving a ball and a certain amount of rough and tumble – though Casey noted the boys’ care to be more gentle with their younger sister – and the parents perched on upturned crates and watched.
Spirit Bruce spoke again; “Only time we was ever at peace, after the honeymoon ended, me an’ her, was when we watched the children playing or sleeping. Any time other and we couldn’t manage hardly a civil word. Or rather I couldn’t, she couldn’t hardly manage a word at all by then. Love for your children makes you put up with all sorts you wouldn’t ever take for yourself, though. I guess that’s why she stayed. Got no place else to go, not after I took her away from her society lot, and she loved them kids, she did. So did I.” The ghost reached out and hovered his incorporeal hand just above the woman’s hair, closing his eyes as he did, as if remembering how it once felt.
The scene changed to night again. This time Casey found herself around the back of the tavern building. It was quieter than before, as if the festivities of the night were almost ended. She caught a few drunken cries, further away, and a bit of stumbling and grunting closer by. Then she saw a rough man with a swaying walk, dirty hands and face and torn, grubby clothes emerge around the side, dragging behind him the young girl from the last scene. The man was yanking hard, and the girl was pulling back, trying to escape his grip.
In a flash, Casey knew what she was about to see and tried desperately to turn away, to cover her eyes and ears, to run, but she was still frozen solid. She watched as the girl finally opened her mouth to scream. Saw as the man heard her pull in a deep breath and whip his other hand around to slap over her mouth. Letting go of her hand he gripped her around the waist and picked her up, kicking and trying to bite the hand that gagged her, but to weak against this man bred and build for brute strength.
The man threw the girl down on the ground so hard, and so close to where Casey stood, that she could see her eyes flicker in dazed confusion. The time was enough; before the girl recovered her wits the man was on his knees astride her, his hand clamped again over her mouth, the other wrestling with his clothes and then hers, seemingly oblivious to the small fists hitting him on the chest, trying to push him. He flinched only when she scratched a furrow down one cheek, pulling his face away and, in a flash, bringing a fist up and down again to thump against her cheek.
The girl lay dazed again but the man took no chances, forcing her arms behind her back and leaning on her so she could not move, hand clamped firmly over her mouth so she could not scream. Grunting awkwardly, he nonetheless succeeded with their garments and his hand disappeared into the space between him and her.
Horrified, Casey opened her mouth to cry out, but her voice was a as frozen as the rest of her. Bruce, standing beside her, stared at the scene, as if he had seen it a million times before, his eyes dead, his face a blank.
Ignoring the struggles and muffled cries of the 12 year old girl beneath him, the drunk navvie grunted and shoved his hips forcefully forward, eliciting an even louder scream from the girl.
In her head, still unable to move or look away, Casey began to chant a litany. “Please make it stop. Please don’t show me anymore. I can’t help. It’s too late. Please make it go away!”
But the scene played on. The girl struggled and tried to fight, tried to scream, but the navvie held his grip, grunting as he pushed into her. Casey watched a bead of sweat roll down his face, leaving a line of white through the grease, and drip on the girl’s bare throat and fought an urge to vomit, afraid of how her body would react to that while frozen as it was.
Soon the drunk gave an extra loud grunt and collapsed on top of the girl, then rolled off to one side, waning penis still poking out of his trousers, glistening in the starlight.
The girl lay where she was, dress yanked up around her waist, as if afraid that to move might start the whole process over again.
Soon, the drunk’s breathing deepened and he began to snore gently, and Sally slowly sat up and edged herself away. Carefully she slid a hand between her legs and brought it back out again, her face pale at the sight of her own blood mixed with his spendings. Pulling her dress down and wrapping it tightly around her, Sally pulled herself to her feet and walked, staggering once, back around to the front of the tavern.
For a while, a few moments or forever, Casey found herself unable to tell, all was silent except for the snores of the sated molester. Then the ghost spoke.
“Right now my 12 year old is telling me, her mother, and her brothers what happened. Or at least, she’s trying to. We worked most of it out by looking at her and guessing what had happened, it was a while before she made any sense through the stammer that appeared that night and never went away again.”
Eventually, Casey heard tramping and saw three figured storm around the tavern to where the drunk lay, snoring and oblivious, still flashing himself to the sky. The three men stood for a moment, then Bruce’s eyes caught on something that flashes in the starlight-an empty bottle that somebody had left lying on its side.
“Hold him down,” he growled, picking up the bottle and tapping it on the ground until the tip smashed, leaving the bottleneck a jagged edge.
The two boys, working in concert and seeming to understand what their father had in mind, rolled the drunk over onto his stomach and held him firmly down.
Casey’s eyes widened and again she tried desperately to look away – again she was frozen. “Please!” she cried in her head. “No more!” But the scene played on.
Bruce kicked the navvy’s legs apart and knelt between them. He spread the man’s rear cheeks and hesitated a second to look up at his sons, who looked back at him, both faces a matching picture of pale terror and fiery anger. With a snarl, Bruce looked back down, gripped the bottom of the bottle, and thrust the jagged end up the rear of the man who had raped his daughter.
The drunk woke with a howl of pain and terror, kicking frantically, but he was held firmly by the two boys, and Bruce shifted himself to kneel across the back of his legs for good measure, his mouth twisted into a grimace as he forced the bottle as far as it would go.
Twisting and turning, the man tried to break free with such fury that, with a sickening pop, one of his arms wrenched from its socket, closely followed by a deafening crack as a bone in the other broke.
Bruce’s eyes lit up as if the crack had given him an idea, and indeed it had. Standing, leaving the bottle, now filling with blood, where it was, he motioned for his sons to turn him over.
Cruelly gripping his arms, the boys did so and held him down again.
The man stared into Bruce’s face, all drunkenness gone now, comprehending, terrified, and began to beg. “Please! Bruce. Oh God! I’m sorry! Please stop!” was all he could manage between screams of pain before Bruce placed one booted foot on the man’s left knee, bent to grab his left foot, and yanked upwards as hard as he could. Ignoring the man’s renewed howls of pain as his leg shattered, Bruce turned and repeated his actions on the other leg.
Finally, he stood above the man and spat on his face, the pulled a dirty rag from his back pocket and stuffed it into his mouth, speaking to the man for the first time. “Be glad I’m letting you keep your little weenie, now, eh? Let it remind you what you did.”
Tilting his head to his sons, Bruce turned and tramped away.
One of the boys followed shakily, his eyes staring in shock. The other started, got halfway round the side, then leaned against the building and heaved vomit until he fell to his knees. His brother, hearing, returned and pulled him to his feet, murmuring earnestly to him, and together they made their way inside.
The scene ended, the ghost Bruce finally spoke, his voice colder and darker than ever; “He deserved every bit of that and more. He hurt my little girl. She never recovered. More than just that stammer, she never stopped waking in the night screaming. She married eventually, even lay with her man I presume as she did have two kids, but till the day my baby girl died, that monster dogged her every move. She lived like she was haunted, like she was always expecting him to come up behind her, or be round the next corner. Not even her husband could approach her from behind without she jumped a mile. As did her kids, got raised by a woman scared of her own shadow, they grew up t’same – and on all the way down the line, generations of neurosis. Know where my last descendant lives? In a nuthouse that’s where. In a room with straps on her bed for when she gets violent, arms covered in needle marks from the emergency sedatives. Never a bad thing happened to her but a few generations of increasingly severe neurosis. No, my girl never recovered. Wasn’t like you got today with counselling and all, them days you just had to suffer, and get blamed for bein a woman. That’s what my little girl got,” the ghost turned and looked at her thoughtfully, “Though from what I seen, even all your fancy counselling and all can’t erase a thing like that. Some scars stay forever, don’t they. Till death and beyond.”
Casey stiffened her already frozen body as he spoke, bringing memories so far buried in her head she was hardly sure at times if they were no more than a nightmare. Helplessly, she remembered.. The rough feel of the living room carpet. The calloused, squeezing hands. The frozen inability to fight or scream. The pain. The feel of being unable to breathe. The rush of cold air when he climbed off her. The disbelief when he thanked her for a nice time. The stickiness where he had violated her. The crawling of every inch of her flesh. The dirty feeling that no amount of scrubbing could remove, even now. With an inner wrench, she shoved the memories away again and stared coldly at the ghost in front of her.
Bruce stared back, but not coldly. His eyes held a sympathy she had no desire to see there.
“You are just as bad!” she wanted to cry at him. “You raped that man even worse than he did your daughter! You ripped him up inside and you shattered his body every bit as much as he shattered her mind! He died out here, from something that you did!”
Bruce seemed to hear her anyway. “He bled to death. Internally. The bottle, it tore him up inside, and glass broke off, got fed further inside him, tore up even more. He bled to death but there was hardly any mess because when the bottle filled up, it was in there so tightly that the blood had no place to go, it just puddle inside him, bloated him. If he hadn’t bled to death, he would’ve drowned in it eventually.” Bruce paused as the scene changed again. It was daytime, and they were around the front of the tavern – Bruce and his family facing a large, angry-looking group of navvies. “Somebody noticed his sorry ass missing when he didn’t appear for work the next day, and they came looking, remembering how drunk he’d been the night before. They saw him round the back and shouted us out of bed.”
The ghost moved off to one side again to let Casey watch.
One of the navvies, a burly man with a weather-creased face beneath and multiple grease-covered tattoos on arms that bulged beneath the ripped t-shirt seemed to be the leader. He ran a hand through a mop of dark hair, making it stick up even more than it did already, and stepped forward, speaking in a thick northern accent; “Seems there’s a’one o’ us been put ta death in a mannar no’ fittin’ fer anyun. Ya happen ta know aught abou’ tha’?”
Bruce looked around at his family, his eyes lingering on Sally, hiding behind her mother fearfully, then faced the man down boldly, slipping into a faint mimic of his accent. “Aye, I know a bit abou’ tha’.
“Ar, an’ we thought ya mite,” nodded the man, holding up a hand to quell a grumble from the gang behind him. “Aught yer wanna tell ourn ‘bou’ ‘ow a thang like tha’ ‘appen?”
“Aye, I’ll tell yourn,” Bruce replied. “Tha’ feller o’ yours violated my little girl here till she can’t hardly speak two words together ‘nymore. So me an’ mine, we taught ‘im a lesson. Didn’t mean’a kill ‘im but I won’t pretend I gonna cry ‘bout it.”
The man looked at the gang with him, “Seems we got oursen a vengeance killer, lads,” he looked back at Bruce. “You and yourn – by which ya mean you an’ yer lads, aye?”
Bruce nodded, and the boys flinched and paled.
“We takes care of our own, Bruce. Ya know tha’. Tha’ boy hurt yer girl there ya shoulda come ta us. We woulda sorted ‘im.”
“Mayhap I just couldn’t wait so long as tha’ mite take,” Bruce shrugged. “He been took care of, ain’t no more business o’ yourn.”
“Aye, it is,” the man said coldly. “Yous killed one o’ us an’ yer must ken tha penalty fer tha’. Yous protectin’ ter lass, tho, an’ I got no reason ta doubt ‘e did jus’ what ya say ‘e did, an’ tha’ gives ya one chance.”
Bruce cocked his head, “Aye, and what be that?”
“You an’ yourn be askin’ forgiveness o’ us, an’ then ya be packing up and gittin’ fur away frae ‘ere.”
Bruce shook his head. “Ain’t gonne beg forgiveness of you any more’n I gonna try an’ take revenge outta you. Warn’t you did what was done, warn’t your business what I did ta protec’ my own. Man does a thing like that, he ain’t one o’ yourn anymore, he scum as deserved what ‘e got.”
The man motioned to the group and a dozen stepped forward, some flexing their muscles, some straightening out lengths of rope. “Whatever a man do, he a navvie once he stay a navvie till death. An’ when a navvie dies, by another or by anyun else, that man gets ta join ‘im. I gave yer chance ta live cos o’ wha’ ‘e did, cos I unnerstan’ needin’ tha payback, but yer refused. Now ya get wha’ ya earned,” he nodded to his men and they stepped forward.
There was a messy scuffle, not much more than grunting and shuffling coupled with the occasional meaty sound of a fit connecting to flesh.
Bruce’s sons surrendered quickly, allowing themselves to be tied up and knelt on the ground. Bruce fought longer, but he had no chance against so many and eventually he was pinned down, tied, and knelt beside his sons.
“One more chance,” The navvie said, “Ask forgiveness now an’ it’ll be fast.”
Bruce pursed his lips and spat a wad of blood at the man’s feet.
Bruce’s sons, however, looked at each other, then at the man, and spoke in unison. “We’re sorry!”
One continued, “We did what Dad told us to do. I mean, we wanted to hurt the guy and all, but we wouldn’t’ve done that. We’re not sorry he’s dead, he deserves to be, but…” he trailed off.
“Aye an’ we woulda killed’im oursen had ya come ta us,” the man nodded. “But tha’s tha point, whatever a navvie do, ‘e a navvie, an’ is fer us ta take account o’ ‘im. Three o’ ya be buried proper. Ya got aught left ta say, say now, then close yer eyes. It be quick an’ painless – mah word on tha’.”
Bruce glared at his sons through his blackening eyes. “Cowards!” he spat two more bloody wads at them through a split lip. “You ain’t sonsa mine no more,” that said, he turned away and glared into the distance.
The older boy spoke up. “Sorry Dad, but he’s right, we should have taken the man to them – maybe roughed him up a bit, but let them decide how to deal with him. You…enjoyed torturing him. That was too much. If I gotta die, I wanna do it quick, for my part in what we did.”
The other nodded and turned to his mother and sister, “Ma, I’m sorry. You got all the money though, get away from here, go someplace nobody knows you and set up any way you please. Just keep her safe,” he looked sadly at Sally. “Hey little sis, don’t forget your big brothers, eh?”
Sally stared back wide-eyed and tearful, clinging onto the skirts of her mother, who fought to hold back the tears that shone in her eyes as she nodded.
The navvie looked at the two women, “Mebbe y’ought ta be inside, eh?”
The mother nodded and took Sally inside with a last lingering look at her men.
The boys faced forward again, the younger reaching out to grab the hand of the older, who took it gratefully. Together they closed their eyes and bowed their heads.
Two navvies, concealed in the crowd until now, stepped forward and stood either side of the boys. Together they raised a sledgehammer each and, with a glance at each other, and a nod, brought them down simultaneously on the backs of the boys heads.
With a crushing of bone, two skulls were caved in and the boys fell forward, unmoving.
The two with the hammers stepped back into the crowd silently.
The leader stepped in front of Bruce and waited until the man looked him in the eye. “Las’ chance.”
Bruce scowled at him and looked away again.
“Alright then. Watch him, boys,” he said to some of his group, motioning for other to follow him around the back of the tavern. A few moments later they emerged carrying the dead rapist. More picked up the two boys and, leaving a group to guard Bruce, formed a procession down the hill to the railroad track.
Casey watched the crowd move off and fade as the scene changed once again.
“They buried them under the tracks,” the ghost murmured softly. “Sort of an honour. Me they had other plans for.”
They were behind the tavern again. The group of navvies, most covered in more dirt than usual and some carrying muddy spades, trooped around, those left to guard Bruce now carrying him between them. They placed him carefully on the ground, facing the leader, though his eyes looked too glazed to see much.
Leaving him there, they proceeded to take turns digging a deep hole. At first, Casey frowned, not understanding, but as the hole grew she began to suspect and that horrified feeling rose again, constricting her throat and making her stomach turn circles as in her head she began to pray again “No, no don’t, please stop now, I can’t take any more!”
The Bruce that lay on the ground stared uncomprehending at the hole until the moment when a few of them came to pick him up again. Then he suddenly understood what Casey had realised and began to struggle desperately, eyes wild with terror.
Without expression, the navvies held him firmly and carried him over to the hole where they unceremoniously dropped him in. Bruce tried to stand but the ropes prevented him. Instead he was forced to lie and struggled, grunting curses at the men above him as, spade by spade, they piled the ground back into the hole.
Casey watched in horror as the hole filled up again until, finally, the top was patted level with the rest of the ground and the navvies disappeared again.
“Now you see,” said the ghost simply, “Now you know.”
The scene faded to black and began to lighten again. Slowly Casey realised she was being taken back to the empty room in her house. Her muscles unfroze suddenly and she collapsed to the floor, sobbing, finally able to let out the horror of the things she had just witnessed.
Milly started as Casey dropped and, casting a glance at the ghost as it hovered there watching, rushed to her side, rocking her gently as she wept.
“She has seen,” the ghost said eventually, breaking the silence. “She has seen why I linger. Why I entice people to kill. She has seen what the ancestors of those people did to me and mine. You are done here, psychic. This one will join me. Together we will wipe out the blood of those men, and of the man that did to her what was done to my little girl.”
Milly looked sadly at Casey, “Oh honey, you should have told me that. I would never have let you in here if I knew.”
Trembling, Casey lifted her tear-sodden face to look up at Milly, “S-sorry…”
“Shh, s’ok, just coulda done it different if I’d known is all. Don’t worry, we can still do this.”
At these words Casey sat bolt upright and shook her head fiercely, “No,” she said, wiping at her eyes, “No. I want you to leave now.”
“Casey…” Milly started but was cut off.
“Leave, Milly. Please. Forget you ever met me.”
“So you can go off and kill people? No way. Not for their sake and not for yours.”
Casey frowned. “You’d stop me?”
Milly nodded slowly, “I will. This thing is in your head, Casey. What he showed you, how do you even know it’s true? How do you know he’s not still got his claws in you somewhere, making you think like him? You don’t, and you never will unless we get rid of him.”
Casey looked at her blankly, “You don’t know. You don’t know what it feels like. You don’t know what it is to live with. You didn’t see what he showed me.”
“You’re right, I don’t, and I didn’t…but Casey, even if that man deserved to die, and maybe those who did whatever came afterwards – do those people who came generations afterwards and have no connection to it deserve that too? Whoever did that horrible thing to you…maybe he does deserve to die, but is that what you really want to become? Something as bad as the man who caused you so much pain? You want to cause that pain to him, maybe – but what about to his family and loved ones?”
“And what about to everybody else he might have done the same thing to?!” retorted Casey, her voice shrill.
“Oh I’m not telling you he should be left to do it again! The police-“
Here Casey laughed. “You wanna know what the police thought of my story? They thought I made it up! They thought I’d said yes then changed my mind later.”
Milly stared at her, “What?! Why would they think that?”
Casey looked at the ground and shrugged, “Doesn’t matter why. They weren’t interested. I’ve sat for so many years knowing he could be doing the same thing to others and done nothing. He…” she looked over at the ghost, “He’ll help me stop him. The police deal with men. He’s not a man, he’s a monster!””
“That’s not the way, Milly. He is a monster – both of them are – you’re not…a monster wouldn’t have come to me for help in the first place.”
Casey shook her head a little, “Sometimes I feel like I must be a monster. What he did to me…”
Milly wrapped her arms round Casey and held her tightly, “What he did makes him the monster, not you – never you. But even a monster like that was human once – was innocent once. Something turned him into what he became but that doesn’t mean that you have to turn into it too. Let me help you get rid of this ghost here, and then we’ll see what we can do about the rest, ok?”
“Some scars…” murmured Casey, craning her neck to look at the ghost, “Some scars never fade…”
Milly sighed softly, “Maybe they don’t fade, but they do stop hurting – if you stop ripping them open and pouring salt in them.”
“Some people don’t deserve to be forgiven,” Casey said stubbornly.
“I never said you had to forgive him, Casey…though you should know that forgiveness is one of those rare things that isn’t given because it’s deserved. It’s given because it’s needed. Now maybe he needs it maybe not, but you sure do. Forgive him for yourself if you can’t do it for him.”
Casey shrugged, “Not gonna do anything of the sort,” she stated firmly then gripped Milly in a tight hug, gathering strength, then together the two women stood. “You are a monster, you know,” she said to Bruce.
He nodded. “I know. I became a monster the second I knew what happened to my daughter. That doesn’t make me wrong, though.”
“You can stop now, stop talking. I’m done listening to you about what I should do. What you’ve done…doesn’t give you any say in what’s right or wrong. Milly’s right. Becoming a monster to punish a monster helps no-one. Becoming a monster to punish the completely unconnected descendants of those who maybe could have treated you better is…” here she spread her hands out, palm up, unable to find a word to use, but her expression said all that was needed. “Dunno about forgiveness…I don’t want to…” she shook her head, “But that doesn’t matter, this is about, not me and not him – you. You’re the monster here, but you won’t be here for long!”
The ghost scowled darkly and the pale mist that hovered about his form faded from white into black as he spoke, “You will regret denying me, girl.”
“Been a while since somebody said no to you, huh?” Milly asked sweetly. “Maybe if you asked once in a while you’d be a little more used to it by now. But, that’s as maybe. The lady said no and I say you won’t have the chance to ask anyone else, ever again. Casey, you good?”
Casey nodded and looked down at her book.
“Just sound them out, and throw the oil on anything you see that shouldn’t be here – I’ll do the rest. And remember – nothing can hurt you.”
“OK,” she said quietly and began to carefully sound out the strange-looking words in her book, stumbling a little, having no idea of her pronunciation, or of what she was saying, but following Milly’s orders, trusting her to do the rest.
Milly looked the ghost steadily in the eye for a moment, then raised her book and lowered her head fractionally to read her own words, different to those Casey read out, though of the same language – and with more fluency, knowing how to say them and what they meant. In that strange language, Milly and Casey intoned a request to the spirits beyond to open a door and take this dark spirit through where he belonged.
Bruce snarled, then roared, then while Milly chanted, keeping one eye on the book and one on him, he focused his attentions on Casey once more, blocking her off from the psychic.
Looking up suddenly as the reassuring figure of Milly disappeared from the corner of her eye, Casey felt her stomach give a lurch when she saw the spot was empty. “She’s still there. It’s not real,” she said aloud then looked back at Bruce.
Bruce was not there either. In confusion, Casey spun around, taking in the empty room and seeing she was the only thing inside it. “What…” she began, then the world went black.
When the world returned, Casey found herself on her sofa in her nightgown, book open and face down on her stomach as if she had simply fallen asleep.
She looked around the room for a moment, fuddled and expecting it to be empty, then memories flew back and she sat bolt upright, swearing and looking around for Milly or Bruce. Neither was there, and the room looked exactly as it looked every other day, not empty as she had seen it last. As she had dreamt it last?
The question came to her slowly. Was it all a dream? The ghost, going to Milly, the flashbacks, the incantations, everything? A dream? It certainly sounded like a fantasy, surrounded by solid, everyday things – sofa, tv, bookcase – all these things were real and normal. Ghosts, visions, spells – these things were the realm of fiction, of dreams – or nightmares – but not reality.
Standing slowly, Casey rubbed at her wiped and stretched herself, trying to shake the feeling of the dream. Heading for the kitchen to put the kettle on, she jumped as a knock came at the front door. Still enveloped in the fear of the dream, Casey hesitated rather than go to answer it.
A few seconds passed and, apparently, the visitor was impatient as the next sound was the glass in the door pane being smashed by something heavy and tinkling to the floor. Casey let out an involuntary scream then clapped her hands to her mouth, aware she had just told the housebreaker that she was there.
Standing perfectly still, she strained her ears for sound, just able to hear slow footsteps making their way up the hall to the living room door.
Frozen as she had been in those dream visions, Casey stared at the door as the handle gave a small rattle, as it would when somebody on the other side gripped it.
A second passed. Two seconds. Three, feeling like hours. The door flew open, slamming into the wall and bouncing back to be caught by the man who stepped into the room.
He was short and squat, but solid-looking. His black hair was mostly gone on top, some bits of it stuck to his cocoa-coloured skin by the sheen of sweat that caught the living room light. He smiled thinly as he saw Casey there, frozen to her spot, staring at him with her mouth open in a scream that wouldn’t emerge.
The man stepped forward, speaking in a smooth voice with a faint Arabic lilt; “Hello miss. I never did get your name, did I? Doesn’t matter, name’s are less important than other things, don’t you find? I had such a good time with you the last time we met; I have been looking for you for a long time so we could do that again. What do you say, hm?” as he spoke he had moved within reach of Casey, and now he grabbed her by the arms and twisted her off-balance, shoving her backwards as he did so, bouncing her off the sofa and onto the wood flooring, landing on top of her a second later.
Casey yelped as her spine hit the solid floor, coming at last out of her frozen shock, and finding her arms held tightly began to kick and scream instead, as hard and as loudly as she could.
The man laughed as if delighted, shifting his weight so her legs were trapped under him, but making no attempt to stop her struggles or screams. “Now then, this is different…” he nodded approvingly, “I think I like what the years have done to you, miss. Please, scream and struggle all you like. It just makes it feel even better,” he grinned cruelly, grabbed her nightgown with one hand and tore it abruptly, the light fabric ripping open easily, and tore it off, leaving Casey in no more than a pair of briefs. He grinned greedily at what he saw and licked his lips. Holding her wrists tightly in one hand, he grasped at her roughly with the other.
Casey screamed and swore and kicked as much as she could, but the weight and the strength of him was even more than she remembered, even with the strength gained by her terror she couldn’t overcome him. She sobbed and swore and screamed at him but he ignored her, concentrating on what he had come for.
He removed his hand from her, a drop of saliva leaking from his mouth to land on her stomach as he bent his head to replace his hand with his teeth while his unfastened his slacks and reached inside.
Casey recoiled and tried with all her might to move him. This time she managed to shift him just enough to one side to tip him off of her and wrench her hands free, hearing something crack in one of them as she did so but ignoring the pain as she used the other as a fist to pummel the man’s face when he reached out to grab her ankles, hearing something else crack – this time not in her hand, but in his nose.
Finally managing to stand and step away, Casey flattened herself against the wall across the room from the man and prayed silently for him to go away.
Instead of obeying, the man lifted a hand to his nose then looked at the blood pouring from it. For the first time, his smile faded, replaced by a dark scowl of anger as he pushed himself to his feet and took a step towards her. “You will pay for that, miss. You will pay.”
Casey, now fully freed from her shock and deep into terror, looked around frantically and grabbed out for the nearest thing she could find to use as a weapon. Her hand closed on a heavy ceramic horse – bought for her some years previously, an ornament she had kept but never particularly liked until this moment when, the neck gripped comfortably in her unbroken hand, she lifted it above her head. For the first time not waiting for him to make the next move, she took a stride forwards and brought the horse down on his head with all the strength her fear and adrenaline could give her.
With a surprised grunt, audible even over the shattering of the ceramic, the man’s legs buckled and he crumpled to the floor, blood running from the head wound onto the clean floor.
Casey stood over him, the jagged remains of the ornament still clutched tightly, staring at him, waiting for him to move, to try to stand, to make a sound. After a few minutes she realised he was not moving at all, nor making a single sound. He was not even breathing.
Automatically, Casey dropped the horse’s head and knelt to feel for a pulse. There was none. She rolled him over and looked at him, trying to bring herself to help him, but unable to convince herself to place hands on his chest to work his heart, recoiling involuntarily with a flash of nausea as she contemplated giving him the kiss of life. After a few moments she left him there and stood, looking around for her phone.
Instead of the living room she had been in, however, she found herself back in the dream – in the empty room with Milly, chanting still but looking at her in concern, the ghost still hovering, watching her with a smirk.
Casey looked around, befuddled. “What…?”
The ghost laughed, “You killed him! I’m a monster and you’re a good girl – but you still did it! You killed him and you didn’t even try to bring him back again! You couldn’t! Because he deserved death! Join me Casey, I can give you that revenge – that feeling of power, of righteousness – you felt it, don’t tell me you didn’t! You knew you’d done a good thing – a horrible thing, but a good thing!”
Ignoring the ghost, Milly gripped Casey’s shoulder tightly, forcing the other woman to turn and look at her. “Casey? It wasn’t real. Whatever vision he showed you – whatever he manipulated you into doing – it wasn’t real, remember that.”
“B-but I killed him. The man. He came back, tried to-to…and I killed him. I hit him and then I let him be dead. And I did…I felt right. I felt horrible, but…right…” Casey turned pale and glared at the ghost. “You made all that happen, I know you did. Just because it felt good, for a moment, to get some revenge- that’s not gonna make me give up and join you!”
“Ah Casey, you mean to tell me you forgive him for what he did to you?”
Tears filled Casey’s eyes as she shook her head. “No. I don’t forgive him. Maybe I should but I don’t want to. He doesn’t deserve it. Some things are…unforgiveable. How do you forgive the unforgiveable? What he did…it…it’s like killing somebody, but then making them live with it. I won’t forgive him, I’ll never forgive him and if I go to hell or whatever for it then that’s where I go. I don’t want to forgive him, but I don’t want to kill him either. Not for his sake…for mine,” she nodded firmly, wiping at her eyes, and turned back to Milly. “I-I’m sorry. Can we keep going? I promise I’ll try to ignore anything else. I promise.”
“We’re almost done,” Milly replied with a short nod. “Keep going your part, I’ll do mine. No matter what, don’t stop reading. Won’t be long now, that’s my promise.”
Milly reached out a hand and Casey accepted it gladly. They turned to the ghost, a book each in their free hand, and started to read again.
The ghost growled and snarled, but the women did not stop, and the bulk of his strength had been used up. All he could do now was try and distract them with the tricks he had left.
From the walls, large, black cockroaches began to appear, pulling themselves out of the plaster and wriggling down to the floor. Once there, they began to make their way over to the chanting women.
Letting go of their hand-hold, not breaking the stride of their reading, each woman reached into a pocket for their bottle of oil and sprinkled a small amount on the floor. Instantly the bugs disappeared.
They were replaced moments later by a dozen large, black rats with glinting eyes. These, too, were dispatched by oil.
Spiders came next, dropping from the ceiling and onto the heads and shoulders of the women. Both flinched and visibly suppressed a shout, their concentration on the words in front of them almost breaking as they fumbled to splash the oil on the visions. The spiders disappeared.
Next, as the ghost hovered, the two women saw the floor drop from under their feet and disappear down into endless darkness, leaving them stood on what seemed to be nothing, and beginning to fall.
Still not breaking concentration, the women once again sprinkled oil and the ground returned to where it ought to be.
Bruce swore loudly; “From weakling to superwoman! I think you been playing with me, bitch.”
Milly stopped reading, followed a moment later by Casey, who shot her a questioning look.
Milly looked back and gave a barely perceptible nod.
“What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger,” Casey informed the ghost as a black hole opened up behind him. “Enjoy the rest of your death, Bruce.”
He frowned for a second, then saw their eyes look past him and turned to see. He turned halfway back to them, mouth open in an ugly cry that never had the chance to emerge as the hole reached out and closed over him then shrank away, disappearing neatly into nothing.
Casey watched the empty wall for a second, wondering if this was yet another trick, but when Milly closed her book and re-capped her vial of oil, she relaxed just enough to turn to her, “Is this real this time?”
Milly nodded. “It’s real.”
“How do I know?” Casey asked, “He could be doing what he did last time!”
Milly sighed, “How do we ever know anything’s real except by trusting our own senses? If you’re unsure, then be unsure, you have plenty of reason to question your senses at this point I think – but it is done, and this is real. Sooner or later you’ll be certain again, as certain as it’s ever possible to be once you know some of the other possibilities that’re out there,” she took two tottering steps to the nearest wall, leaned back on it and slid to the floor, landing with a thump that made her wince.
“Are you ok?” Casey sat beside her, concerned.
Milly gave her a tired smile, “Just exhausted. This stuff is tiring. But it’s over now. All over. S’ok if I just…?” her head dropped backwards and her eyes closed, soon her breathing deepened and Casey knew she slept. She felt much like doing the same herself, except she feared the dreams that might come. Still, she had to sleep sometime, didn’t she, and Milly was right – it was pretty exhausting stuff. A nap, then, just to get some strength back.
Casey nodded to herself and tapped the floor with a knuckle. Hard enough, she thought, nobody could sleep for long on this. Grateful for the presence of Milly, even a sleeping Milly, she slid down to the floor, cupping her head in her hands, and curled up, closing her eyes. She made it halfway through wondering how long it would take her to fall asleep before she already was.
While in the darkness, the thing that was once Bruce screamed silently as he was pulled towards the final destination he had earned for himself.