Written by P. L. Cobb

Prologue: The End Begins

. . . Rotting.

The dreams.

The hopes.

Everything which had been held onto with a feverish zeal was rotting away.

They were turning to dust!

One mistake had ended it all, taken everything away: his life, and then finally his love.

How cruel.

Curses. He had dealt in them before, but never in such a magnitude as this one, and never upon himself. Most had directions. This one was blind. It neither thought nor felt concerning the intended target. The thing, if a thing it could be called, plowed on, aimless. The irony of it was not lost on him.

Silver fluid traced down his hands, falling to the earth.

Her blood.

How cruel.

She had left him. No one had ever dared leave him. They feared him. She had not, but how?

Who knew?

There had been nothing he could do to change that. Now she was gone, rotting, turning to dust.

It was a mistake . . .

Forgive me, was his last thought before he was flung into the void.

A Poem found in one of the journals of Harris A. Clergue,
youngest son of the late Harriet and Patrick Clergue:

Axendough, a legend of old

A monster unspeakable from a realm untold

(Listen to my warning, and let the story unfold!)

As the legend shall go:

His heart was black,

Cold, cruel, and callous.

He wore tattered robes which hung slack

From his frame, a body deserving the gallows.

As tall as a tower,

Endowed with hideous strengths,

In short: a monster.

To what lengths

Would he go to avenge himself?

I pray that we never know,

Nay, not even myself!

With claws like knives,

The shadow in the dark

Preys upon children, men, and wives

Without leaving trace nor mark.

The spell caster casts out his curses

With neither thought nor impunity.

He has been relegated to the tales told

To children by their nurses

But fear him still, yes, for he is here

For eternity.

Who may stop him?

All is futility.

1: House of Bones

“I don’t even know why they want to renovate this place; it’s a waste of time and money!” muttered Len. “Just tear down the whole damn place and build a new house!”

The other man nodded absently. It was no secret that the house frightened Len; it was a joke amongst the other men working for the contractors. “How old did they say this house was?” he asked.

“From what I hear it’s pretty old,” Len replied.

“Too bad the original owners didn’t keep it. This house could’ve classified as a heritage site; and then the family would be rich if they ever sold it. It’d make a nice tourist spot too!”

Len rolled his eyes. “The original owners are dead, Gary!”

Was he rolling his eyes in fear? Gary wondered. He’d been working for the same contracting company as Len for four years now; Len had never acted this strange on a project before. Gary examined the walls.

They were on the second floor, in one of the three bedrooms; the current owners wanted to make the second and third rooms into one large studio area. It would have been much cheaper to tear the place down and start from scratch. Gary wondered if the current owners were going to sell the house once it was finished. They could charge quite a bit.

In order to make the studio, they’d need to knock down a wall or two. Normally he didn’t care, but this house was too old; it made him uneasy. What if the floor caved in? There were more men working below them.

Listening to Len go on about tearing down the house also made him feeling apprehensive. The man’s fear was starting to eat at him. “So what happened after the owners died?” At the time the original owners, the Clergues, had been quite affluent up until their mysterious death. It was all Gary knew.

“After their death, their children left town. No one returned. So basically the house was left to rot.” He plugged the shop vac into the extension cord. “Nobody knew why they didn’t come back to the house. A few years back there was a case of three children who were reported missing in this area though.”

“Okay,” Gary said slowly. Was that what Len was bothered about? From what he knew the nearest house was a kilometer down the road. They were also in bear country. “Get a grip on yourself, Len!” He hefted the sledgehammer.

“It stinks in here,” Len muttered.

Gary rolled his eyes. The room hardly smelled at all. It was one of the better rooms, there had been no furniture or books for the mice to chew on and there was little water damage, if any. At the most, it was dusty.

“There’s something dead in the walls!” Len groaned.

“It’s probably a rat. Shut up.” Gary made the first swing, knocking a hole the size of a fist.

“Wait!”

“What the hell’s wrong with you? Can I do my damn job, please?” Gary didn’t even bother looking at the other man.

“I see it!” It was more of a whisper than a shout; the urgency in his voice was what struck Gary. “It’s looking straight at me, Gary!” Len stared out of the window facing the backyard. All Gary could see was where the forest began. Out of curiosity Gary went to where the Len was standing, just to see if there was something there. Len pointed at a spot. “It’s right where my finger is; I thought it was just another tree. Until it moved . . .”

Gary couldn’t see anything he asked, “What are you on?”

“Life,” Len replied sourly. “I’m not seeing things. Its right in front of that birch tree. How can you miss it? It is right there damn it! Now it’s looking at you, Gary . . . Shit!”

“Move out of the way. Okay, which birch tree are you looking at? There are at least twenty of them.” Gary stood where Len had been. He followed the man’s finger to the exact spot. For a minute he stared hard. All he could see was the birch tree; the bottom half was black, and the rest was normal. Teenagers came out to this place on dares, so it would seem natural for a few to strip the bark off of a tree. He’d never seen someone strip off that much before. It seemed a bit senseless.

“Len, it’s a birch tree. Someone stripped off A LOT of bark. That is not a monster. It isn’t anything.”

Len opened his mouth to protest, he shrugged his shoulders. “You’re probably right. I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“Maybe you should take a few weeks,” Gary suggested. From what he knew Len was due for a holiday anyways. There were enough men, so he wouldn’t be missed.

“Let’s finish this first,” Len said. He turned his back on the window.

Gary returned to the wall. An odd smell wafted from the hole. “I think a rat died in here.”

A shout rang out, shrill and hoarse, loud enough to be heard from the main floor.

One of the workers looked up to the ceiling. “What–?”

Even before they had thought of posing the question there was a clamor coming from down the stairs, a clatter of frantic footsteps.

“OH SHIT! SHIT! OH SHIT!” was what the two workers were saying, over and over again. Their voices held a hint of terror, even a touch of delirium. Len and Gary burst into the living room area with wild eyes. Len sunk to the floor while Gary leaned against one of the walls.

“You okay?” someone asked.

“What’s going on?”

Slowly, Len lifted his eyes.

“Well?”

Gary began to sob. He started to thump his head against the wall, muttering, “No! No! No!”

Len cast his eyes to the floor. Funny that he should be so calm now. From the corner of his eye he saw the thing again. It stood outside one of the windows. He tried not to scream. His words came out in a choked whisper. “There are bones in the walls.”

Once the proper authorities were called in the house was scoured from top to bottom. Inside the walls numerous skeletons were found; most were estimated to be the remains of children aged three to ten.

The house was confiscated, and then left abandoned . . . again.

2: Always a Sad Shadow

Three years passed by since the grisly discovery at the old Clergue estate. The house had been forsaken this time, left to rot by itself . . . rotting.

The garden out in the front yard had soon grown into a tangled jungle that blocked the wretched place from view. The people who drove by down the road were relieved at the prospect of NOT having to look at the place. By now everyone knew the story.

He, it, sidled along down the dark corridors. They were truly empty now.

What a blessed relief! Oh to be rid of those horrid reminders. But now that the ghosts of the past had vanished, he was all alone.

Atonement. Once seeming ridiculous, it was now an unattainable dream. He would always be a sad shadow. He would creep along in the dark, afraid to show himself to the light of day.

Then he would rot.

Alone . . .

A soft rumbling caught his attention. Looking in the direction of the noise, Axendough let out a soft hiss.

Not alone anymore . . .

3: The Root Cellar

Let’s go for a ride, they had said. Let’s do something different, something cool!

So that’s what they were doing. When asked to be the driver Susan had said sure with a smile, all the while thinking fuck you.

What was she, their chauffer?

She drove down the quiet road hitting ninety kilometers. All the windows were down, and the radio was blaring. It wasn’t that she was bitter . . . just a tad disgruntled. They always asked, because she was the only one with a license to drive.

At least they asked,

The sound of the rushing wind competed with the sounds of Fleetwood Mac. Their older songs, though. They were the best.

“Can you switch the song?” Mark whined.

“No,” said the others, two girls and a guy. Mark didn’t like most of Susan’s music, which was fine because she didn’t like most of his. They were evenly matched in that regard.

Susan caught Mark’s eyes roll into the back of his head. Drama queen! She thought. “Hey, I know what we can do tonight!” she said. “Let’s go to the old Clergue estate! Apparently they found the bones of children in the walls!”

“Oh gross!” Hanna wrinkled her nose. She was a bit squeamish, that one.

“Sweet!” That was Jake. “Its five minutes away, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty close by,” replied Susan. She scanned the fields. The house was hard to miss unless someone knew what to look for. She spotted it on the left. Susan carefully pulled into the unkempt driveway; partway through they had to get out and walk for the remainder of the trek.

Unkempt was an understatement.

The decrepit building loomed up like a giant, bathed in a warm orange light. The sun had already begun its descent. Twilight was fast approaching.

“I really don’t like this,” Hanna whispered.

“Why are you whispering?” Mark asked.

“I don’t know. You know how some people get a very bad feeling about a place?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m feeling it.”

“Sure.” Mark rolled his eyes.

“We’ve only been here for five minutes, Hanna,” Susan broke in. If they got into another fight she’d make them walk home … alone … in the dark.

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Hanna. You don’t have to go inside, you know.”

They came to the old porch. Mosses and lichens covered it like a floral blight and where it had caved in tall thistles sprouted. Stepping around the weeds Susan went up the steps to the front door. The door handle had long since gone missing; she nudged the old wood. It fell right off the hinges with a dull thud. “Geez!” she jumped back a step.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go inside,” Jake began.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Susan agreed. “This place looks like it’ll fall. Where’s Mark?”

“I’m over here!” They all turned their heads in the direction of Mark’s voice. While Susan had gone onto the porch he had explored around the house. “I think I found the door to a cellar or something!”

“I’ll just stay here, thanks.” Hanna hugged herself for warmth. It was beginning to get cooler now that the sun was going down.

Susan went around the house. Jake remained with Hanna. “We’ll wait for you,” he said softly. Why was everyone whispering again?

Mark was crouching over something in the ground. When he looked up at her he said, “It’s hard to see at first, but this is definitely a door.” His voice was a whisper too as he traced the faint outline of the said door. Someone had taken the time to hide the entrance.

Now the question remained: what was it an entrance too?

“See if you can open it.” She was very curious. In the news articles Susan had read nothing about a secret cellar. Perhaps there were more bones waiting to be uncovered.

Mark had to dig in the sod, but he found the latch after five minutes. “Maybe the grass just grew over it?” he suggested. “People forget about these things all the time.” Mark sounded unsure of that explanation.

“I remember they used to teach us about the local history in grade school; no one ever thought that one of the city’s most influential families could do any wrong!”

“Yeah,” Mark nodded his head in agreement. “They won’t be teaching kids about this stuff anymore. At least, not the bad stuff.”

“I wonder who did it,” Susan asked. “Was it the parents, or one of their kids? Apparently their youngest son had committed himself in his forties . . .”

“Wait, what?”

“He checked himself into an insanity ward. There’s got to be some trauma associated with this place.”

“What if it was somebody else stuffing the walls?” Here was a thought. “Maybe somebody was sneaking into the house through this secret cellar at night. They could’ve murdered the Clergues and tortured their kids!”

Susan grimaced. “That would be horrible.” Mark’s idea seemed far-fetched, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t possible. No one had been able to determine who or what had been the cause of death to those poor children.

Finally, Mark lifted the door.

A black, gaping hole stared at them from the ground. Some strange, faint smell wafted up to greet their noses. It wasn’t a bad smell . . . just an odd one. It was unrecognizable.

“Who’s first?” Mark hesitated.

“I’ll go. You found the door, so I’ll find the way.” Susan descended down into the dark cellar.

The air steadily became damp and cool. It looked as if no one had been down here for ages. It seemed as if no one had ever been down here at all. Layers of dust caked and clung to every surface. Thick layers of dust gripped every surface. Susan wrinkled her nose in disgust.

When she came upon a hallway Susan stopped.

At the end of the corridor was a strange orange glow.

“What the hell?” she murmured. Looking up she saw Mark coming down the stairs. He was surrounded by a square halo. She motioned for him to be quiet, and then indicated the light; his reaction was like her own. Could someone actually be down here?

They crept down the hallway. Once they reached the end they came to a room.

At its center was an antique table. It was in mint condition. It was also very old. There was dust everywhere else except on that table. A candle had been placed at the center of the table. The candle was the source of the orange glow a small flame consumed the wick, dancing strangely in the dark. It held an unnatural quality.

Susan put her hand on the table. It was a fine piece of work. Had someone put it there to be admired? It was a small room.

So who else was here?

Just beyond the candles glow she noticed it . . .  a wingback chair.

“Huh.” Something drew her one step closer. Bending forward to investigate–

Mark poked her arm. “Hey! Are you all right?”

No. She was not all right.

Sitting in the chair was it! He . . . the dark shadow! It was not human.

It was too big, too skinny; too long . . . Everything about it was wrong. Leaning forward, as if to observe the observers . . . the thing cocked its head to one side. It turned to Susan. With a monstrously large hand it put something into its face.

It, he, the dark shadow, had put on his eyes. They shone white, colourless in the darkness, soulless.

Mark dragged the transfixed Susan past the table. In his frantic scrabble he bumped into the table, knocking the candle to the ground. Before Susan could blink everyone was thumping to the car like a herd of mad elephants, half carrying her in their arms. As the old house burst into a crackling blaze Jake was speeding away.

“Susan!” Hanna’s voice was muffled.

All she could see were those two white eyes.

What was happening to her?

She blinked.

4: The Beginning of the End

Susan blinked again.

She felt something swerve violently, followed by a sickening impact. A loud whine filled her ears. Someone screamed. Then, all for the whining, it became silent.

“I can’t feel my legs,” She muttered.

No one answered.

“Mark?” her voice was hoarse. Her eyelids fluttered but she could not open them; she whined in frustration. Through her eyelids she saw a dark shadow loom up before her. “Jake?”

No one answered. A sob nearly choked her. Someone touched her waist. “Mark?” The sensation left her . . . What was wrong with her legs?

Then the realization hit her.

“Holy shit, what the hell is that on the road!” that had been Jake. He screamed that before swerving to avoid the thing.

Hanna let out a quick sob, right before the glass shattered her face. “No!”

Yes, there had been the distinct sound of shattering glass. Susan’s body had tensed at that.

The air bags had burst out from the dashboard with a whoosh and a thud. The two at the front would have been dead a few seconds before that.

It was a few seconds too late to save them . . .

Mark . . . He was okay, but unconscious. It was him who had fallen across her legs, cutting off the circulation.

So who was touching her? A pointy object or so it seemed, was placed on her forehead. Was it a pencil?

No.

It was the thing; it was resting one of its long claws on her head.

Susan forced her eyes open to stare straight into the hidden face. Those two white orbs stared at her, or at least she thought they did. It could be looking at a daisy and she wouldn’t know the difference.

“Damn you!” she spat.

The creature, if it could be called such, drew back as if whipped. What kind of monster cringed after it had done something this horrible?

If only Susan knew.

She’d never know that she reminded the thing of someone else, someone he had lost a long time ago. Susan would also never know that that someone had given him the exact same reaction. Now was a different time though. The long years of abject suffering had bludgeoned a once proud and arrogant heart . . .

With something resembling a sigh, the creature turned away. “Forgive me,” it murmured.

“No!” she told it coldly.

The thing let out a piteous howl.

“No!” was its last word before violently dashing itself onto the ground.

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