Fantasy Mystery

The Vadenais house had been haunted for days. Not years, months, or weeks, but precisely five days come two o'clock A.M. tomorrow.

Let's see if haunted's the right word. Let's look at the facts. 

Ever since the 'haunting' began, those living near enough have heard strange noises coming from what their sleepy brains think is the direction of the Vadenais house.

No one's lived there for a year, but young Lucille Penning saw a light in the second floor window.

And... I necessarily add, purely as evidence... there have been almost countless animal deaths noted on the remote, forested property. They were not violent deaths. It rather seems like the animals passed in peace. There were exactly thirty-five.

Little children think the 'haunting' is due to the animals' spirits taking shelter in the deteriorated house.

The bigger children don't think so aloud, but I've heard a few whispers...

The biggest children imagine openly that whatever it is wants revenge. This is because they think that death is unfair.

I am not easily misled. I do not feel there is sufficient proof of a haunting, and mere superstition as a basis for anything is quite removed from the question.

But the answer here doesn't lie in the pondering or the assumptions. It lies in getting up and going to find out the answer.

I have an inquisitive mind and as I walk on the moonlight studding the ground, my leather jacket catching on the twigs, I question why an unused path is so clear of leaves. Recent rake marks slice the dirt, dragging back towards the direction I am facing.

I chuckle to myself. There is very little mystery to all this, really. The solution is probably mundane. And yet, I am curious. I will satisfy this mind of mine lest I am unable to sleep tonight.

When I finish walking the path I am faced with the house. Yes, it is battered by storms and sunshine, and quite lonely and despairing for comfort. Yes, there are noises coming from the direction of the house that would certainly be described as strange for an empty place. And yes, there is a light on, though not on the second floor. It is emitting from what I would guess is the kitchen.

I pause before the front door, slipping my hand into my pocket where a small flashlight rests. Should things become dangerous, I wonder if it will supply sufficient defense. My best friend and colleague is more careful with his life than I, planning everything out to the letter before proceeding. People moved under his influence when he wound them up, he got what he wanted, and the answer to a puzzle was always his. I am apparently reckless, I lose sight of my quarry, and I don't always end up with the answers. During my investigations I tend to receive more blows to the head than him, his grand total being zero.

Well, here's to another blow to the head.

The room I enter hums with the sound of a hot tea kettle and is warm and bright like a fine day. There is a frying pan on the stove, eggs sizzling on high heat, their edges crispy and blackening. Bread made from traditional methods is poking out of the toaster. Everything is done, waiting. The atmosphere is urgent and empty.

No one is there to eat the breakfast. It had been windless outside, but the curtains on the single French back door are fluttering. For a moment I think I see a human shadow shift beneath them.

The breeze dissipates and the curtain stills, flattening against the panes with no room for a body. Immediately after, a piercing cry rings out, as loud as can be but so far away. There is a passion in the cry, determination, and also finality.

Cock-a-doodle-doo, it says.

It ends.

My chest heaves and my eyes water. Briefly, I think it is the most beautiful sound I've ever heard.

I rise from the floor where I find I've fallen. Gradually, I take in the fresh darkness, the new silence. I stumble over to the stove. It is cold and rusted. The frying pan, the kettle and toaster have vanished, spider webs and chunks of ceiling replacing them. The curtain is tattered, hardly useful. I shove it out of the way and look outside. There's someone on the lawn.

Unsteadily, I reach for the door handle.

What am I doing? I think. It's funny how something can scare you and bewilder you, but then it doesn't stop you. Something odd is going on. I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in ghosts. Usually any evidence of their presence is artfully placed for a human's benefit.

I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but I open the door anyway.

As I thought, any wind is absent. The suspect is standing by wild berry bushes, looking down at the ground. I can see his profile. He is a young, handsome boy. His hair is suffused with the effect of sunlight glancing off rocks in water, even in the near darkness. It is red and orange, green and brown and black.

He doesn't look up but I know he's seen me. I notice a subtle change in his posture, his breathing...and then of course when he speaks to me.

"Ah," he says, his voice low and surprisingly angry. "Another thrill-seeker." He nudges the dirt with his boot. "The abandoned house, the late night...it's supposed to deter you humans so people like me can get some work done."

"So bold," I say, taking another step down from the house. "Your work? Is it killing, theft, or extortion that you must do in secret?"

"And you like to think of yourself as the local law enforcer, I presume? I've dealt with people like you before. I don't have any patience for them tonight."

Something in the way he holds himself tells me he isn't commonly patient.

"I've come here by way of my own curiosity."

"Take my warning," he says coldly. "It does no one any good to be curious about these things."

"I'm afraid I have no choice but to persevere in discovering your purpose here. You have caused unease for the town with your dramatic antics here at the Vadenais house. Think of what you're putting in the little children's heads."

"Their fear keeps them safe." He finally looks at me, very slowly turning his head. His eyes are like his hair, glinting green and orange. "Listen up. I didn't do anything here. But everything's sorted out. It's over." I give him a blank look. He gestures tiredly to the house. "The so-called haunting."

"The house was ready for breakfast at this late hour, with shiny new appliances, then the electricity goes out and it's a junk heap," I declare. "You didn't do anything? Well, who did? It all happened like magic, but we all know magic doesn't exist." He raises an eyebrow. "So tell me, wise guy, if you know so much, what is someone doing prowling around here, switching lights on and off, cooking eggs and not eating them?"

He looks again at the ground and puts his toe into the divot he'd made in the dirt. He appears gradually more calm and I decide I am wrong to think him impatient. "Look here." He points at the spot. I approach him, caution failing me.

In the place he had been staring at, a low, clay-colored plastic food bowl is staked into the ground through its center. There is nothing growing on the spot, suggesting a hole had been dug there.

"A grave for one of the animals, is it?" I ask.

"His name was Stellar," the boy answers, crouching before the grave and touching the handle of the stake. "He was born May 26th at two o'clock in the morning and he died May 31st, roughly around the same time."

"And how do you know that?"

The boy has been serious this whole time, but his seriousness deepens, edged with the sharpness of pain. A line etches itself in his forehead. "He told me himself," he says.

I don't say anything. What can I say?

Again he slowly turns to look at me. "Your belief system is different than mine. But only because I cannot help it. Perhaps it won't satisfy your curiosity, but this is what I know, whether you can believe how I know it. Stellar, a rooster, died last year. This year his memory was born on his birthday, and it will pass away again on his death date tomorrow. That's who was making eggs and toast." He waits, then continues. "I will make sure his memory doesn't return again. It's what I do. The quickest I can explain my presence here is to say that I am a 'person who can see ghosts', and something of an exorcist. I sensed the spirit and came for it."

Finally I cough up, "So you're psychic?"

"My vocation is complicated to define. I tend to stick with words that are familiar. Yes, you may think of me as psychic."

"Well, what do you make of me then? Can you read my story?" This is all truly bogus and I am just wondering now what drives people to become this way.

"I'm not any good with the living."

I don't take him seriously anymore so I look for holes in his tale to poke him through. "Why did you say he talked to you? Stellar, I mean. If he's a rooster, he'd just say—" I break off, reminded of the sound I'd heard. "...cock-a...doodle-doo..." I finish, feeling a bit sick, my mind glazed. It was just a sound, the same as the sound of the kettle and the eggs, added for effect. And yet that cry trembles inside of me, sunk deep to the bottom. I don't think I'll be rid of its memory soon.

"He has rather more of a human figure in his spirit form. I think it must have something to do with how his owner thought of him."

"His owner?" I say, trying to settle myself back into reality.

"I don't know her full name. She's one of the Vadenaises. She was still living here with Stellar until he died. I think... I think they loved each other very much." He sighs, deeply. "Death claims us all." He says it like an obligatory amen.

"...I don't know what to say to all this..."

"Neither do I. This subject is terrible, isn't it?" He pats the earth that covers Stellar's body. "It's amazing what these things can do though. Animals."

"...I've never been interested in them."

"I've only owned a stray cat, whatever ownership means in that case. But he comforted me. At the time, he was the one thing my heart could accept. I'm sure Miss Vadenais felt the same as me when Stellar was born: that her life had changed." He stood up. "Now it's changed again. The memory is what remains."

"You said you're going to get rid of that memory."

He smiles at me grimly, finally coming away from the grave. "That's me, the one who steals even the last crumbs of life."

I am bewildered and uncomfortable. Past all that which could not sort itself out, I feel pity for this boy. He has a story I cannot begin to perceive, but somewhere along the way he's been scathed and still feels the pain. He might be a criminal. He might not be. Sometimes the best course when you don't know is to pass over doubt and confusion, and stick to things you know that you know that you know. It's always good to be a friend.

Like the cry of the rooster, this boy sounds very lonely.

"I'm Marion Jay Alderbright," I say. "I should have introduced myself instead of accusing you. I'm sorry. Detective types sometimes think they rule things."

"That's all right. I look like the bad guy." He pauses. "I'm called The Wolf. Suits me, huh. Guess I couldn't exactly be a sheep."

"You wanted to be left alone. Why did you open up to me?" I ask.

"Your pin. I like that band too."

I glance at the pin stuck in my jacket's lapel. "The Rasmus. My girlfriend got me into them. A good band musically, but the lyrics are pretty dorky."

His smile grows less wilted. "My brother and I liked to listen to them together. There's not so much time for that anymore."

"But the memory makes you happy," I offer.

"Family. Yes." His dancing eyes flicker to mine. "It's what I fight for."

We part ways on the path covered in autumn leaves. I hope his heart is lighter.

As for me, I can't sleep tonight. My mind is full of unanswered questions.

May 15, 2020 23:35

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Alexis Klein
18:12 May 21, 2020

This is an amazing story!


Hamadryad 77
02:49 May 22, 2020

Thank you, Alexis, your comment made me so happy!!


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