~~The night was cool and only the fire blazing in the hearth fended the crippling cold from the lounge room. The wind whistled at the windows, a chilling trickle of air seeping in around the edges. We gazed out at the trees, their branches like claws reaching into the night.
“You shouldn’t be living by yourself in such a big house,” I said softly, she looked back to me, as if just remembering I was still sitting here.
“I’m fine dear, really, you should stop worrying,” She smiled absently and rubbed at the arthritis in her trembling hands, “He wouldn’t want you to worry.” Anytime he is mentioned I can’t help but flick my gaze up to the portrait that hung above the fireplace. It was a younger man, in his thirties, near the same age as myself. I knew him as my father, a man that left life not long after I entered it. I shared much of the same likeness, maybe the reason why she tries to look anywhere but directly at me when he is mentioned.
“This is the second fall you’ve had in the past year and you were just lucky that I happened to come around each time it happened. You could have hurt yourself.” I said sternly, “He wouldn’t want you to get hurt, would he?”
“I can’t leave. He’s here with me, he still looks after me.” She creased her brow and looked out the window again, “He won’t let me leave.” I had to resist the urge to shudder, the way she spoke about him as if he were still alive. Though, I knew better than to comment on that by now.
“No, I will not leave him,” She turned back to me again, her eyes blazing, “and you can’t make me!”
“I just want-“
“Well this is not about what you want! It’s about what I want, and I want to stay here with him. To the end.” She said doggedly, her words final. I sighed in defeat, it seemed that her stubbornness hadn’t faded over time.
“We’ll see what you think in the morning.” I looked to her for an answer, but she just huffed and turned to look out into the dark night again. The crackling fire tried in vain to mask the sound of the wind outside, which had risen to a howl.
An oppressive dark settled over the house that night. I laid in the guest bed upstairs, unable to shake my mother’s words. She spoke of my father as if he were still here. As if he didn’t die before he could reach the age of thirty. I shuddered and pulled the covers up to my chin, wishing to dispel the frightening chill that ran up my spine. Just then the window blew in, releasing the wrath of the wind on the pristine white curtains, their movement like a frantic specter. I jumped out of bed and struggled to shut the bone-chilling wind out of the house. My heart pounding, I latched the window with a satisfying click.
I stood there for a moment, trying to calm the beating of my heart, when a faint tune curled in the hollow of my ear. I stood, my breathing slowing as I listened for it again. There, behind the rage of the wind I heard it again. Hesitantly, I followed the sound out the door and into the empty hallway. The floorboards creaked underfoot and the sound paused. I stopped and listened to the distant sound of the wind and the ticking of the old grandfather clock, straining my ears for the alluring sound.
I stood there for what seemed an age, desperate for the sound to return. I was about to turn around and go back to bed when it came again. It was like a whine, except pleasant to the ear, the melody making it hard for me to hold back a sob that had crept up the back of my throat. I continued to follow it, creeping along the hallway to the door at the end to find it, unusually, unlocked. That door was the subject of many of my childhood musings, I found the same childish obsession quicken my pulse in anticipation. I looked over my shoulder at the door of my mother’s room, half expecting her to appear and usher me to bed with a firm scolding. But she didn’t.
I took a deep breath and entered the room. The sound stopped.
Inside I found the only part of the house that had escaped the modernisation over the years. Although I couldn’t see anyone, the room was lit by a scattering of disfigured candles, shadows danced on the walls above. Everything in the room was either made of an array of still fragrant woods, or of glass; from stained, to shaped, and even the plain window panes that filled the opposite side of the room. I resisted the urge to feel the texture of each painting on the wall, all of them depicting a landscape of autumn colours to match the dark red mahogany walls.
The source of the sound appeared to be on the desk, where a shrine of sorts was arranged. A violin sat up on its case, its bow resting on the strings. It served as the centerpiece to the photos and blood-red roses that made up the shrine. I reached out to touch the violin; curiosity winning over caution. The wood was smooth, and dark, the strings taut. I went to pluck a string and cut my finger, a sharp stinging pain causing me to recoil towards the door.
The room went deathly quiet as soon as I reached for the doorknob, even the wind had died down to a mere whisper on the window pane. I found myself holding my breath and drawing my hand back, waiting for the repercussions. That was when I heard it, the music had started again. Faint and loud at the same time. Sweet, yet sorrowful as well. The tune sent goosebumps crawling on my skin. I looked up to see the violin had disappeared. The hairs on the back of my neck raised; there was someone, or something, in here with me.
I reached for the doorknob again to find it locked, I broke out in a cold sweat. The temperature of the whole room dropped exponentially as the music gained tempo. A sudden gust of wind came out of nowhere, whipping my hair around my face. I checked the windows and found them all shut tight, the natural storm shut out; the unnatural trapped in. I was yanking at the doorknob when the candles extinguished, leaving me in the dark. The wind finished but the music continued, warping with each repetition.
I felt more than saw movement nearby, the darkness shielding my vision. The rustling of fabric broke through the music and seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. I reached back for the door again but found empty air instead, I sunk to the ground to find some kind of stability. Silence covered my senses for an agonizing moment, all I could hear was my heart beating erratically in my chest.
A scrape of a chair and a sickening snap set my teeth on edge. The music slinked back into the air, faint and haunting, joined by an incessant squeaking.
A flash of lightning revealed the room in startling clarity for a brief moment, all except a silhouette that was between me and the window. The darkness ensued again, thunder joining the cacophony. I stood and walked slowly towards the window, the creak of the floorboards in synchronisation with my breathing; slow and shaking. Light filled the room again and I came face to face with a horror.
The light disappeared but the image stayed with me. I screamed at the top of my lungs and scrambled away from the window. The portrait, he was there.
His neck was at an odd angle…
Every time I shut my eyes I saw my father;
Staring down at me with glazed eyes from dark shrunken skin…
I blink and he’s there;
Swinging from the rafters by a curtain tieback…
I rose and yanked at the door, frantically screaming for Mum. My voice lost in the rising clamour of the thunder and violin. I felt shivers go down my back and my hair stand on end; someone was watching me. The thunder had stopped and the violin died down to a low whine. I turned slowly to see only vague shadows flitting across the room as I searched.
I pressed my back against the door and waited anxiously for the next lightning strike. My breaths came short and shallow, hitching in my chest. I ignored the doorknob as it rattled, ignored the muffled yells from the other side of the door. I was concentrating on the shadows before me, alert and tense.
The lightning struck. I fell back as the door opened, landing on my mother as the dark spectre resembling my father reached into the space I had been standing. I scrambled to my feet as the spectre seemed to adjust to my disappearance, I pulled Mum up with me and dragged her down the hall for the stairs. I looked back to find that the spectre was following, feet dragging on the wooden floorboards as he seemed to be pulled onwards by his noose.
I began down the stairs but Mum broke out of my hold, jolting me back. I went to reach for her again but she moved away, looking down the hall.
“Mum!” I went to reach for her hand again but saw her face split in a nervous smile. She reached out for the dark specter, “No, Mum! It’s not him!”
“It is,” She turned to me with so much light in her eyes, the smile playing on her lips, “He is here, this is what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
She turned back to the spectre as it neared her and reached out for it. The spectre softened as they clasped hands, eyes only for her.
“Mum, we have to go, he almost hurt me,” then it dawned on me, all of Mum’s falls. Malice towards the spectre entered my voice, “It’s been hurting you!”
The spectre turned hollow eye sockets to me and Mum tried desperately to calm it, but it was out for revenge, on the daughter it never really knew. Mum screamed for me to run as the spectre dodged Mum’s attempts to hold it. I turned and ran down the stairs, knowing that pure unnatural fury followed close on my heels. The steps flew under my feet and the front door crashed open as I hurtled through, ethereal fingers brushing my scalp as I set foot over the threshold and into the pitch black night.
I reached the front gate before I looked back over my shoulder, but a flash of lightning showed the spectre had stopped, the door being pulled shut by Mum, her face haggard and pale in the light of the storm. It began to rain as I watched the house from the safety of the fence line. The cold seeped into my bones but I began to relax, the fear leaching out of my limbs. I turned and walked away, making my way towards the light and safety of the streets, my car left in the driveway of the house.
I didn’t go there often after that night before Mum died. When I did, I stayed beyond the fence line and waved to her figure in the window, chills going through my veins as the ghost of my father appeared over her shoulder.
I stand there now, watching with a heavy heart as Mum’s dead body is carried out, but I daren’t go any closer than the front gate. I stare up at the study window and see two figures now; Mum and Dad together. Somehow I feel that this is as it is meant to be. I turn and walk away, for good this time, my car old and decrepit in the driveway.