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BORN OF CONSEQUENCE


by

Brian W. Cooke



South-Central Connecticut, 1960 

 

Contrary to his usual agitated mood whenever wakened from a nap, Chester's lips contoured into a smile as gracefully and smoothly as the ghostly, airy taps of whispers grazing his ear. Their feathery touch like the sheer strands of angel hair trailing down his ribcage, strewn across his nipples, making them hard.

 

In the wake of a relieving stretch he could feel the stiffness from his lengthy nap dissipating from his shoulder muscles, feel the sand shift in between his toes as he lay there under the sun along this quiet corner of the Connecticut shoreline with Isobel's silhouette just above him, blocking out the harsh sun from his eyes like a mid-day eclipse. An eclipse that lived and breathed, that swathed him in wet pulsing warmth, moist kisses and a dripping hunger that drained him of all worries, leaving him with only a sensation of pure pleasure. An eclipse that matched his soul in thought and deed. Listening to the sweet words Isobel whispered, he thought about everything she'd done for him, how dedicated and sweet she was, and he cast a doubtful aura at the idea that he could have possibly found himself a better woman than she. His smile widened. He was a lucky man, the luckiest in the whole world. This was Isobel, his love, his wife, his soul mate.

 

---------Then Chester was awakened by the sheer, uttermost pain. His already splintered spine buckling again as his 53' pickup slid a little farther down the embankment of his property, finally stopping with a sudden jerk, butting against an oak tree towering overhead. The smell of burnt clutch and gasoline saturated the air inside the partly crushed cab. The faint squeak of a tire still slowly spinning went unnoticed by him against the backdrop of his own agonizing screams.

 

Then his pain was suddenly complimented by a white-hot sliver of sheer madness once he saw Isobel's freed head laying inside the roof of the truck turned upside down. Strands of blonde hair once as gold as the sun now lay coated in a thick scarlet moss, draped across her face, her twisted nose, the gaping cuts along her lips, across the lifeless stare in her eyes. Hair now as starkly red as the rest of her severed neck, except for the stubble of faintly white vertebrae protruding out from underneath it. Tattered layers of ripped skin and sticky tissues entangled it like a bloody cobweb pillow. And now gripped by paralyzing horror, Chester could hear the old woman's warning.

- 35 years later 

 

As they ran through the woods Mark made all sorts of noises, pretending he was a car or maybe a spaceship zooming in between trees. Jamie laughed so hard that she could barely keep her jittery breath as they quickly tunneled below the thick blanket of summer shade cast by those so beautifully imperfect, southern New England pine trees. A race it was, and the first one to the old rusted out shell of a 73' Dodge abandoned years ago in the woods would be the winner and as such would earn the right to boss the other one around as he or she saw fit for the next hour. But there were no Œdictator for an hour¹ titles handed out this time around. It was a tie paid for with their sweat and they rewarded themselves by the trickling brook with gulps of cool, soothing water in between their gasping breaths and giggles.

 

A little on the chubby side, Mark could have gone without running his ass off to keep up with Jamie, but she was always so competitive. She'd get that smirk, that look in her glazy, green eyes that seemed to flirt with insanity whenever she'd conjured a new challenge or dare, or whenever something mischievous struck her fancy. But Mark enjoyed it, and more importantly, she was a girl, so naturally no matter what she challenged him to it was his duty as a guy to do it better than she could. But this Tom-Girl gave him a run for his money every time, no matter what they did, from running to wrestling. That was Jamie, Marks little girlfriend. They were going to get married someday, of course. They'd practiced so many times beneath the giant canopy of the weeping willow tree in Jamie's back yard. She'd always wear her prettiest white dress and Mark his cleanest jeans and t-shirt ----- neatly tucked in of course, this was a formal occasion after all.

 

Mark remembered the first day he'd moved to this quiet rural area with his mom. Exploring his new neighborhood, walking it¹s quiet country roads while submerged in deep wonder about what his new life would be like, he hardly noticed the faint voice calling to him. Finally, he turned to a small, clapboard shack on a pastoral ¾ acres, a rusty tin smoke stack puncturing it's tarred roof, sun-bleached bed sheets draped inside filmy windows. A few clusters of grotesquely shaped old trees casting spotted shade across the dirt and brown grass patches that came together to make the tattered quilt of a yard. And on the front steps, hanging by one arm from the porch door, with a melting Popsicle in hand, was Jamie.

 

"I wouldn't go much farther down that road if I were you." she warned him with an air of ominousness, shaking her head and sucking on that Popsicle almost intimately as she gave a sharp glance his way. Her stiff, curved bangs of rich red hair waving past pale cheeks then draping back down, framing a sparsely freckled face.

 

"Why not?" Mark asked, secretly admiring her cuteness.

 

"You go down that way much farther and Max might get you!" she said, before sticking the Popsicle back in her mouth again, this time somewhat dramatically and then dead-staring Mark in the face with raised eyebrows, as though that particular gesture with the Popsicle and the eyebrows was supposed to command a more heedful response from him.

 

"Who's Max??"

 

"You don't know Max is? You must be new around here," Jamie said, giving out a short lived and somehow cynically insightful little chuckle. Eerily enough, Mark realized, the kind of chuckle he'd only heard adults utter. A tone-lacking shell of emotion steeped in abstruseness and knowledge of something just beyond his own grasp.

 

Jamie continued.

 

"Max is just the meanest dog that ever lived..... I swear it! He's a big, mean black dog. Like the Black Shuck! You know what that is, don't you?" Jamie asked with a worrisome undertone. Mark shook his head dumfounded, but Jamie knew. She knew a lot about old myths, superstitions and such. She was a lonely, only child. Other children thought she was a little weird, one to be avoided or to be ridiculed whenever they needed a cheap and fast way to boost their own fragile self esteem, so she kept to herself a lot. She had plenty of time alone to read old books and things, fairytales of dragons, witches, superstitions and such. And she loved that kind of stuff. In such a fictitious world she could imagine herself as a princess or as some other such divine being, instead of what she was, a lonely child, needlessly loathed by so many around her.

 

"He's a big black dog that can appear out of nowhere and bite you with it's big, sharp teeth.....it's just a myth though." she playfully sneered, cocking her head and displaying a mischievous smile as she noted Mark's naive, slightly concerned look. "But Max is for real, and his teeth are huge." she asserted.

 

She began to explain the way Max would go nuts whenever a passerby like Mark would come into view and he¹d supplement his usual fit of barks and growls with biting into the wire fence that kept him in. Biting so hard that he'd draw his own blood from his gums, infected from disease, filth and tiny rust particles flaked and fallen from the aging bob-wire. Sometimes, when Max watched someone walking away, beyond his caged, limited reach and he realized he couldn't actually get the chance to sink his teeth into tender, virgin flesh, he'd throw a fit, chasing his own tail in maddening circles and eventually biting down on it until he drew his own blood and began to whine.

 

"You know, if you're on your way to the viaducts there's another way to get there. If you just go back up the road and take the dirt path, it'll lead you straight to them."

 

"What are those?"

"The viaducts? They're these big tunnels that water runs through. Then when it comes out it builds up in certain spots almost like a pool and you can swim. It's really cool........" Jamie couldn't hide the ensuing glint in her eye. "Of course, it's a good idea to bring someone with you if you've never been there before. It's a little dangerous. I could show them to you. My name is Jamie by the way.

 

"I'm Mark. Sure let's go." he said very casually. He thought he hid his boyish excitement rather well. Such a pretty girl wanted to go with him. Mark had a fleeting, covert thought that she must be crazy. Or maybe his mother was right all this time when she'd told him he was handsome. He felt a renewed air of confidence.

 

Mark and Jamie had a lot in common from the beginning. In fact, they both came from single-mother families. Mark and his mother Joan had just moved there from Colorado. Mark's father just recently met with death in an auto accident and given the circumstances, Joan felt it best they move. This was a fresh start, a place far away from the tragic memories of her husband's death.

 

Jamie's guardian, her Aunt Margaret, was glad to see that she finally had a friend. She thought Jamie spent far too much time alone in her room and playing by herself outside. The closest thing to a friend that Margaret had seen was that older boy, Tommy, giving Jamie a ride home from school on his dirt motorcycle. But he was years older and his extension of friendship would usually consist of dropping Jamie off and politely speaking with Margaret for a few minutes before hopping back on his bike and disappearing down a nearby trail hidden behind the trees. This friendless scenario hadn't come as a big a surprise though. Jamie had always been introverted, secretive.

 

Lately though, she'd been playing this role a little too heavy for Margaret's comfort. It was times like these that she wondered if she'd failed the expectations that Jamie's dead parents would have had of her to raise their orphan child.

 

But then, she couldn't really blame herself. As soon as Jamie was old enough to speak, to divulge the closet thoughts churning within her cryptic little mind, Margaret soon realized that she was a little bit different than most children, her thoughts imbued with something more distant, darker. But Early on Margaret had decided to leave well enough alone. Given the morose circumstances surrounding Jamie's early life it was a certain lenity with which Margaret looked upon her and her peculiar idiosyncrasies. Jamie had actually dealt with the death of her parents extremely well. Margaret figured the fact that she had been too young to remember everything had a part in that. At least she assumed Jamie didn't remember. She was only two at the time and she'd never said anything about it. Neither did Margaret. Some things were better left unspoken and buried away beneath the ashes of fallen mistakes.

 

Some things too were better left unremembered, which was why she had hidden that dusty box in the attic. So badly she'd wanted to start a fire in the back yard and burn the whole thing, but she couldn't. As much as she wanted to, she knew it wasn't her place to do so. It was nothing but a bunch of old dusty letters, family diaries and photographs. Nothing truly substantial and a far cry from the once warm touch Jamie would have felt from her real mother. But none the less she felt Jamie had a right to know where she'd come from, who her parents and grandparents were. Jamie already had known about her parents' death, but she was still so young, so fragile and Margaret hadn't wanted that box of memories to perpetuate any mal influence or resurrect any somber feelings that Jamie might have already been able to overcome, perhaps forget altogether.

 

So Margaret planned to keep it hidden up there until Jamie was older, until she was better capable of dealing with the situation, but Jamie had other plans. Being her curious self, she'd discovered the box nearly a year ago, shortly after her tenth birthday

 

Strangely though, it wasn't her mother in whom Jamie displayed the most interest, like Margaret had assumed she would. Instead, it was her grandfather. There seemed to be a strong affinity between Jamie and her long dead counterpart, in more ways than one. Even comparing Jamie's baby picture with the ancient, bleached black and white photo of her grandfather carried with it an eerie semblance as it seemed to be the identical baby in each picture. Even now, Jamie often displayed a gaze and mischievous smirk that would all too easily take Margaret back, for a split second staring back fifty years into a young, Chester Brown's eyes. But the similarities didn't stop there. Margaret, Chester's only sister, knew him well of course and from the beginning she'd noted the subtle similarities Jamie shared with him in her personality, in her ways. A similarity that seemed all the more strange since they'd never even met.

 

And this semblance between the two only thickened as Jamie began to spend more and more time reading the writings of her grandfather, letters, journals and such. And the more she read them, the more often she'd ask probing questions to Margaret about what he was like. Normal enough for any child who grew up without knowing her grandfather, but she did it quite often and with hungry persistence. If Margaret hadn't know better, she would have sworn that Jamie was becoming obsessed.

 

Later on that day after racing Mark and Jamie had made their way to old man Mckelvey's pond which they frequented. That old timer would start screaming at them to get off his property for sure if he saw them, but they didn't care. In fact, they kind of hoped he would. It wasn't like he was going to catch them or anything and besides, it was always good for a laugh to watch that vein in his forehead flex with pulsing rage, watch his face flare into a beat-red, driven by his Irish temper and this devilish duo's puerile insolence.

 

Busying himself prodding the water around the dock with a stick, Mark seemed quite determined to get the venomous Water Moccasin snake that he'd cornered below, teasing it with his naked toe, dangling it just an inch above the serpent¹s watery domain.

 

Jamie couldn't help but stare at him, wonder if he had noticed any changes in her. In some abstruse way, she sensed he had. She could detect a faint trace of withdrawal in his mood and she doubted it had anything to do with troubles at home. He'd be the type to talk about them right away if there had been and besides, his mother had always pampered him. After his father's death Joan wanted to make sure Mark wasn't plagued by anymore grave misfortune or traumatic episodes. She was already left without a husband, she simply wouldn't be able to go on with the loss of her only son, locked away in a loony bin or dead because of a depression-driven suicide.

 

Jamie took a moment to wonder what it was exactly, that had changed in her for him to notice. She couldn't give herself an answer. She sensed something had, but somehow after a brief moment it seemed like something less deserving of such brooding contemplation. In a cloud of hazy thought she was and had been bemused with something lurking within the obscure corners of her mind. Something she could not quite understand, but somehow didn't need to.

 

She kept staring at Mark for a moment longer. She thought about the last three years she'd known him, about what they'd gone through and then gave an iota of thought to how things would be if he were gone, how much of a shame it would be for him to die like others had.

 

Mark was a great friend and cute too, she thought. They were supposed to get married after all, some day. But deep down inside, somewhere within her deeper thoughts, she knew they wouldn't. And there was a short lived undertone of sorrow that haunted that last fleeting thought as she turned and looked at her reflection in the slowly rippling bed of water below.

 

Jamie could almost see her reflection perfectly in the nearly still water. Her hair hanging down around her shadowed face, her sneakers swinging back and forth in a show of youthful energy. The vibrant colors of her bright red hair and clothing neutralized to a more subtle, fluctuating blob of nearly toneless pastels by the water's murky undertone. It made her think of an aged photograph, like the ones of her grandfather she'd found in the cardboard box.

 

The treasure within the box was truly fascinating and Jamie absorbed every detail from the dusty fragments of once forgotten memories as fast as her small, spinning mind could handle. There were diaries, love letters her parents wrote to one another, some that still faintly smelled of sweet, rich perfumed aromas. There were photographs, a journal and more letters from family members she¹d never heard of before. Faceless voices from the past gathering together to spin the tale of her closet roots, a tale mulishly avoided by her Aunt Margaret. And it was then, for the first time, that Jamie felt a smidgen of resentment towards Margaret for keeping this a secret.

 

Despite the somber, sobering experience of seeing her parents, especially her very own mother for the very first time ------and only being granted the opportunity to do so through a photograph that even Margaret hadn't know was in there------ Jamie was feeling elated. She supposed she would have drawn more grief from their deaths if she'd known her mom, if she'd known any of them. But both her parents died at the hands of a house fire when she was only two years old. She had but a smeared, faded memory of a single figure cradling her, a soft voice singing a soothing song to her before she'd feel her heavy eyelids ease shut. The words to which she could not remember, just the melodious timbre fading away with the image and surrounding light as she felt herself cradled by a soft, gentle drift of fatigue.

 

Then Jamie discovered her grandfather, Chester Brown's Journal. He didn¹t seem like all that much at first, just words from a stranger describing his life and the way he saw things. Words from a man who, to a certain extent, took a back row seat to Jamie's intoxicating curiosity over her mysterious, never before seen natural mother. But this curiosity somehow faded, leaving her grandfather's dusty words to contrast against the more bland thoughts and lives of the rest. He was such an interesting man. He had led such a vibrant, unrestrained life, with every fascinating detail archived in his journal. And the way he thought ------reflected in his writing------ seemed so akin to Jamie's that at times she felt as though she was sharing the same space in her mind with her dead grandpa right then and there, despite the fallen years, the half century of change, his lifeless pile of disconnected bones lying motionless in a crumbling wood coffin consumed in the black belly of a small cemetery decorating a seldom traveled country road.

 

Margaret hadn¹t known it at the time, but she'd been right about Jamie's intrigue morphing to obsession. The deeper Jamie read into that journal the deeper she became ensconced within the shadow of her grandfather's spectral quintessence. But by the time Margaret began to notice, this obsession had already taken firm root.

 

For a long time Jamie had been waiting for this, longing for it. A lonely child, starved of identity by Margaret, starved of self by those piers whom mocked her for merely being who she was, starved of direction by a world rendered unfamiliar without her parents and a conservative guardian who tried to shield her eyes from it. Now for the first time in her life she felt whole, as though her essence came from somewhere and actually meant something. For the first time she understood herself by understanding that of her past.

 

It wasn't long before Jamie finished Chester's journal, before she absorbed his tales of travels, of meeting interesting people and lifelong friends, of love and the world as he saw it. She couldn't help but feel some sorrow at the fact that there was nothing more to read, nothing left of him. Not a love letter to his wife Isobel, a fleeting idea scribbled on a scrap of paper ------a body to hug her with. So Jamie went on reading his Journal entrees again and again while many of the love letters between her parents stayed wrapped in their partly disintegrated rubber bands, left untouched. Her mother's mostly unread diary left to gather another generation¹s worth of dust, perhaps never to be read again, to crumble. But after going through her grandfather's journal the third time around Jamie realized that she really didn't need anything more. She knew who he was and thanks to him, she now knew herself as well. For a span of time, she still hungered for her kindred spirit though, until this was eventually appeased by her elating discovery that she was a new person now and that her grandfather would from this point forever be with her in spirit and mind.

 

Mark hadn't seen that snake in a while. He figured it probably escaped through some small hole somewhere. He was getting pretty board and wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He'd already played on his computer at home and spent half the day with Jamie, which usually spent his boredom quickly given how spontaneous and energetic she was. But somehow he was still board. Jamie was still really fun to be around, but she wasn't the same old Jamie and Mark couldn't help but allow this subtle fact to saturate his thoughts, to weigh down his ability to fully enjoy himself with this shell of a person morphing itself into the Jamie that he knew, a shell that hid from him whatever was going on inside Jamie's mind, behind those insane, smiling eyes.

 

"What do ya' wanna do?" Jamie asked.

 

"Don't know. What about you?"

 

"Not sure." she replied nonchalantly. A breath's length of time passed and a mischievous smile bled through Jamie's eyes as they shifted back to Mark. In a burst of unanticipated enthusiasm, she said.... 

 

"I know what we can do. And it'll be really fun too." Mark turned from the water to look at her and Jamie saw the expression of laid back interest momentarily occupying his face.

 

"Common' an' I'll show you." Jamie said. She got up and ran, Mark trailing behind her, a rush of peeked curiosity suddenly ripping through his lazy thoughts like a ray of hot sunshine piercing through quickly thinning clouds.

 

Deeper and deeper they ran down unfamiliar, scantly trodden paths and across brooks that did not mimic the same familiar curvature as did those within that more familiar blanket of forest. Mark was becoming more exited with each passing moment. He'd grown accustomed to the familiarity, complacent with his position now equal with Jamie's, now knowing the forest's shady corridors as well as she did. But suddenly he found himself feeling much the same way he did when he'd first began hanging out with his perky new friend. In the dark, excited, curious. Jamie seemed to sense this as she glanced back and matched his smiles, complimented by that wild spark of craziness in her eyes that was never far from surfacing.

 

They'd been running for quite some time and Mark was just about to call it quits, until the trees in the distance began to reveal the rough outline of something obviously artificial and foreign to this wooded landscape. The closer to it they drew the more defined and sharp the image became, until it was clearly a house in the not too far distance. Straight, rough oak tree trunks and dark, shaggy, curving pine tree branches gave way to weathered walls and rustic, wood shingles across a charred, buckled roof. Jamie and Mark took their last few gasping steps onto a pebble driveway, now overgrown with weeds, reaching up from the earth in a desperate show of survival. They stared up at the husk of a house, the tattered ruins of a once beautiful, two story Dutch-Style home. 

 

Mark saw the charred window frames cradling shards of broken glass, the blackened spots along the roof where fire-fighters once poked through with axes to extinguish ferocious flames consuming the house. The rusted hood and doors on one side of an old Nova still parked near the home stood testament to the fireŒs ferocity, where the paint had at one time bubbled from the intense heat of the fire and eventually flaked off. Years of rain scarred the exposed sheet metal with a blanket of amber rust.

 

"When did you find this place?" Mark asked.

 

"I've known about it for a while.....all my life." Jamie told him, seeming to give great emphasis on the long eleven years that she'd been alive. Such the community elder she was.

 

They were now venturing into the shadowy, cinder coated skeleton that was the inside of the house. The floor was a disgusting quilt of filthy burnt clothing, broken glass and bits of smashed plaster. There was little left of the inside walls or the 2x4's that ribbed them. What hadn¹t been consumed by fire had been weakened over time by rain and rot, or smashed by bored teenagers with no better way to pass the time in their little town. But the weight-bearing frame of this old house had been constructed of heavier, solid beams. Though blackened and ash clad like everything else, they still kept the house standing.

 

Mark had a spark of imaginative wonder. 

 

"What do you think happened here?" he asked, still looking around the murky confines, knowing obviously that a fire had consumed the structure but wondering exactly under what circumstances.

 

"Think?" Jamie replied, her usually chipper voice replaced by one of slightly contemptuous ridicule. "I know exactly what happened here........It's a really cool story." she emphasized, lending embellishment to her family's own cryptic saga as Mark continued to explore the house.

 

"This house belonged to my family, my parents and before them, my grandparents."

 

"So..... is this how they died, in a fire?" Mark asked. He was apprehensive. Jamie vaguely mentioned their deaths before and now Mark knew, imagined vividly how they must have died in a fiery blaze and despite the lack of emotion on Jamie¹s part, Mark still reserved a certain caution while speaking of them, unsure how being at the very site of their demise might effect Jamie, trigger an onslaught of once restrained tears.

 

"That's right." Jamie answered. "They were asleep and choked on the smoke before they could get out. That's what aunt Margaret told me. I was lucky. I was staying over her house the night it happened. Otherwise I would have died too." 

 

"This place is creepy, I almost feel like your parents are watching me. Like this place is haunted. Do you think that's possible?" Mark asked as they began to ascend the crackling staircase leading to the upper floor. Misty blankets of clouds that had since gathered, threatening to beset them with drenching showers hung over their heads now, partly exposed to them with half the roof burned off.

 

"Maybe. Maybe all of them are watching." said Jamie. Mark was a little perplexed at this. 

 

"What do you mean Œall of them'?"

 

"I mean all the others who died here." Jamie told him. Mark's surprise began to carve itself across his concerned face, his active, child-like imagination churning, his nerves cringing. And it was now that Jamie articulated all the sordid details of the house's bloody history. It was a fascinatingly macabre story that Chester Brown's journal revealed, not to mention the entrees in Jamie's mother's diary that gave credence to and even supplemented certain details of the wild tale. Mark would find out exactly how the fire happened. Jamie only wondered if he'd believe it.

 

1960 seemed like good times. A strong-willed, if not tenacious young man named Chester Brown had struggled and strived his way from poverty to financial security. He had a great job and a wonderful sweetheart for a wife. With the birth of what would years later become Jamie¹s mom, they'd decided to move out of their Hartford apartment and into a house. They ended up beginning construction on a decent sized home, settling in the rural outskirts a couple of miles outside the center of a small town not too terribly far from the coastline.

 

Winter was just around the corner, you could feel it in the cool night air that more and more often threatened to leave the next morning's grass blades and weed blanketed with a layer of frost. At first Chester, his wife and baby daughter had stayed at their apartment in Hartford, but when the house was half way complete the two had decided to live on the property in a trailer lent to them by a friend. It was a bit drafty, but they wanted to be close to their dream home and seeing it come along little by little each day drove them to want to complete the project even faster.

 

Two workers were hired, one an aging black man who knew everything about wiring, plumbing and framework, but was weak in the knees and lower back. Another was a boy with not much for brains, but a strong back. Together, they made a good team. This was especially important since Chester had to balance a full time job back in Hartford during the week and consequently was only able to help out during the weekend.

 

Soon enough those frosty mornings began to cast their frigid breath across everything. It marked the outset for the armada of snowflakes to come during the long New England winter months. The teenage boy had since quit. Chester had tried hiring new, cheap help for the grunt-work, but nobody stayed for any longer than a week. Chester himself still had to work so with the absence of that workhorse to carry beams and heavy bundles of shingles, the project's progress slowed to a crawl. But Chester was relentless and continued to push the old man to his limits, telling him to make due as best he could until Chester found him a more permanent work partner. In the meantime he'd simply have to carry his weight, along with the heavy shingles and beams. The old man protested, pointing out his weakening back and knees, but Chester wouldn't listen. He was blinded by the vision of him and his wife sleeping cozily in their new home, their baby close by. Chester made it clear as to what he expected to be completed by the end of each week and pointed out the fact that there were always plenty of lead carpenters laid off because of the chilly winter season out there who were hungry for a nice private gig like the one this old man had. So the old man worked and tried to ignore the searing pain in his knees, in his lower back......... in his heart.

 

It was a chilly Thursday afternoon when Chester came home to find the old man sprawled out on the plywood floor in the living room of the house. His hand still gripping his heart through his torn, drafty jacket, almost as though frozen that way by the chilled air that whipped against the walls outside, bled through the cracks between the plywood sheathing. He was dead and it would be Chester's job to tell the old man's wife the horrible news. Chester's job to seal his own fate and the fate of generations to come.

 

"And that old woman was really a Voodoo witch that cast a spell on my grandfather. She told him that since her husband died building the house, that my grandfather and all his family, all his children and even grandchildren would pay with their lives. And they all have, right here in this same house, one accident after another. Except for me, I'm the only one left. Once I'm dead, the curse's work is supposed to be all done." Jamie explained as the two crawled out onto the roof through one of the splintered openings.

 

"Wow." Mark was fascinated, though looking into Jamie's crazy eyes he could not fathom why she decided to come to such a place, especially given the menacing ambience such a place would have harbored in his own eyes if he'd been in her place.

 

"So then, you're supposed to die too?" Mark asked. "That doesn't at least bother you a little?"

 

"Of coarse it does, a little bit. But there is one catch to the curse." she said slowly, with an air of misty thought, as though seeming to simultaneously contemplate something.

 

"What's that?" Mark asked, at the moment looking down into a larger whole in the roof that gave a birds-eye view of a section of collapsed second floor and the filthy first floor below it.

 

"If you take my place." Mark barely heard Jamie whisper those frigid words ------void of the emotion with which she usually spoke------ right before he felt her hands shove him over the edge of the gaping whole, right before he heard himself scream and felt the butterflies in his stomach flutter as he fell. Right before he felt the searing pain that came with the sudden snap in his back, just before everything faded to black.

 

Jamie, such a lonely child for so long. She'd developed quite an imagination over the years, such a wondrous, impressionable mind. Then, once she'd discovered her roots, her kindred spirit. Once she discovered who she was and the notion of what she was began to manifest and take root, patronized by her ever churning imagination and by that thin lace of insanity that did in fact run in her family, in Jamie's blood, her mind, she realized she had an obligation to fulfill. It began to take precedence over all else and no price was too great, not even Mark's life.

 

Yes, in thought and spirit Jamie's grandfather was very much like her. Jamie embraced the assumption that they had to be kindred spirits. One. Despite the weight of it¹s dubiousness or probability, the concept itself none the less remained a comforting idea for Jamie. After years of isolation, years of being looked down upon by others and being told that she was crazy, that she was a freak, she¹d finally found something that proved otherwise, that proved she¹d come from somewhere, from a strong, laudable bloodline. He was inside her, he always had been. They were one and in her heart, her mind, Jamie was sure that he could hear every waking thought wafting through her head, such as a distant kindred spirit could.

 

A proud kindred spirit. Jamie thought to herself. She smiled.

 

But for Jamie this whole situation went far beyond feeling a mere affinity with her grandpa. She'd transcended that point where reality and her own fanciful daydreaming of their spiritual connection functioned on a more or less orderly level. A medium in which there was a recognized similarity, yet along those same lines a distinction between the two personalities and an awareness on Jamie's part of that distinction.

 

Now Jamie could feel Chester inside her in a much more vivid sense, his energy, his life and his thoughts coursing through her body and mind. It was intoxicating. Jamie felt stronger, wiser. In fact Jamie could not only feel her own churning thoughts becoming more heavily laced with her grandfatherŒs mental modality, but she also began remembering the written, archived events of his life as though she was there, as though she was her grandfather. Because at this point, the line had become blurred.

 

Clinging to the only person she could ever identify with, Jamie now saw no difference, she was her grandfather just as much as she was her own person. And now reflecting on unsettled matters from many years ago, she heard a wordless voice of warning somewhere deep in her mind, from that part of herself that entertained this semblance with her dead grandpa. She sensed a sudden need to protect herself, the last remaining trace of family blood that that old witch swore to raze from existence.

 

Jamie peered down at Mark. Amidst the hazy beams of light filtering through the smashed window openings she could see him there, could barely make out his eyes, open and staring up at her with a frozen, almost guilt-inflicting gaze.

 

For a fleeting second she was taken aback by this, almost feeling a smidgen of guilt. But it quickly faded. She did what she had to do. She also knew he was dead, that he hadn't suffered. His head sat impossibly crooked and cocked to the side, almost tucked behind his shoulder. His still, arched back lead up to his legs that dangled from a charred oak dresser, the culprit responsible for snapping his delicate rope of vertebrae. Among the shadows Jamie began to see a slow moving crimson puddle emerging from behind Marks head. Jamie turned and walked away. In an insane wave of splintered, misguided thought, Jamie figured that this would suffice. A final sacrifice was given, her life would be sparred.

 

Jamie didn't want to die and her imaginative, yet juvenile mind ------influenced the way it had been by her grandfather's fantastic stories and by the arcane mythology weaved into those dramatic fairytales she'd read at home----- frantically searched for a way out of her own grim destiny. The only feasible solution was to provide the bloodthirsty house with another life in place of hers, a sort of sacrifice, just like her young, impressionable mind had seen in the movies and read in those fantastic story books. She rationalized and decided that it was a good trade. After all, in a way she figured she might actually be saving two souls, hers and her grandfather's, now since they were one, in exchange for just one boy's soul. It was fair, it was the right thing, the only thing to do. It was survival.

 

Jamie walked along the ridge of the roof, stood on the chimney with one foot on each side of it's brick walls. She looked out over the wooded property and displayed a faint smile, now secure in her victory over death, relieved that she would no longer be haunted by the ominous curse, that relentless specter. But suddenly, Jamie wasn't feeling so safe. The whole thing seemed all too easy and that wordless voice from deep in her mind was warning her again, this time screaming. It wasn't going to work. Jamie remembered the words of her grandfather, the story. The curse called for the blood of her family. It wanted her blood. It was her time. There was nowhere to run, the house would consume her as it had the others and it was now that she felt herself twisting her own feet, inching them closer to the inside rim of the chimney. As she watched, her thoughts became clouded, drifting too slow for her to react or stop herself before it was too late. Then finally her feet slid inside the chimney and Jamie fell in. With her hands to her sides and eyes closed, her tiny body tightly wedged itself into the filthy, pottery-lined tunnel that burrowed through the cement and brick, down to the dusty, dead fireplace below.

 

She couldn't move at all, her arms were pinned to her sides, bound tightly by solid mortar and brick. She was several feet below the chimney top, left with no way to move much less crawl back up and nobody to hear her cries for help except the twisted corpse laying on the floor inside the house like a tossed marionette. Suddenly Jamie's twisted perspective changed to stark fear in the blink of an eye. Death, real death, was here, breathing down her neck, replacing that protective, warm voice in her head with cold silence, bringing with it the promise of slow, maybe painful demise. The vivid image raped her senses. Confronted with the reality, she quickly snapped out of the fictitious world she¹d molded around herself like bubble, a bubble pierced by razor-sharp waves of panic.

 

Crystal trails bleeding from her eyes began slicing through her blackened, ash covered face and mingling with the blood on her bruised chin before plummeting onto her chest. A practically unnoticeable puddle of tears began forming along a tiny cleft where her meager chest. Then the clouds released the contents from their bloated, burdensome bellies and the rain attacked the forest, the rocks, the leaves like a billion tiny fragments of heavy, peeling sky.

 

It was a long, filthy night and the rain had yet to cease, even now in the early evening hours of the day after. In fact, the showers had grown more intense, if anything, evident in the water level that had by now risen to Jamie's lower lip. She had long since cried herself tearless, but her heart pounded with fevered ferocity against her chest, against those tight cement walls the closer the rising water got to her mouth.

 

She knew she would die. It was now that she'd realized the magnitude of what she'd done, how stupid and crazy the whole thing was and what Aunt Margaret told her about everybody getting what they deserve in God's eyes. But this did not make up the preponderance of thoughts in Jamie's frightened head. No, she was more occupied with the grueling anticipation of drowning in the grainy, soot-imbued rainwater beginning to pour into the corners of her lips, sliding down her throat. Her desperate gasps and filthy coughs gone unheard. It seemed that old witch was going to get what she wanted after all, her curse fulfilling her sanguinary need for retribution even now from beyond the grave.

 

Then suddenly, Jamie heard a crackle in the distance drawing closer. It was Tommy, doing some mud riding. Her heart cried out but her voice didn't bother. She knew he wouldn't hear her cries with the engine of his motorcycle running. But then, as though to appease her desperate wishes, she felt a surge of relief as that noisy engine suddenly shut off and merciful silence prevailed. She could call out to him now, save herself! ------

 

That was, if only the water hadn't by this time risen high enough to drift into her mouth and stifle her words, replacing the precious air that once occupied her lungs with soot, black-water, tiny whirls of child's-blood.

 

Tommy fingered what was left of a joint back into his pocket and turned to look at the ruined house behind him. He thought he'd heard something like a gurgle. He dismissed it as his imagination, started his bike and took off through the woods. It was almost 3:30 and he wanted to ride up to the school. He hadn't seen that little red headed girl in a while. It sucked to walk in the rain. Maybe he'd give her and her little friend Mark a ride home today. He knew they'd be walking home together, such good friends they were. Jamie was a good girl, Tommy thought.

 

Maybe just a little crazy.

 

 

THE END

 

   


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian W. Cooke.

This 27 year old writer was born and raised in Connecticut. He has always harbored an understanding and morbid fondness for the more clandestine side of life, the often macabre thoughts that waft through people's minds yet none the less remain unspoken of. He has always been an avid writer of dark poetry, but within the last three years has developed a taste for dark story fiction writing. Just a few of his greatest inspirations include: H.P. Lovecraft, Alfred Hitchcock and Poppy Z. Brite. Some of his work, including one short story and three poems can be seen in this July's issue of the - Dark Moon Rising - web magazine. He looks forward to many more publications and definitely sees the possibility for some novels in the future.



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