Chapter Sixty-Five, the Final Chapter

The next morning, Mariah and Jemima were up early.  They brought tea and scones and jam to Jonas while he still lay in bed.  Mariah knew immediately that her husband had hardly slept at all.  She left the tray on the table next to the bed and told him to take his time getting up.  She and Jemima would be busy packing for a couple of hours.

Jonas took a sip of tea and it was enough for him to feel hunger.  He focused on the warm scones and strawberry jam, filling his mind with bits and pieces of information, crowding out any thoughts about the house.  When he finished, he dressed and went downstairs.  He busied himself with bringing the car around to the front door and making room in the trunk for Jemima’s bags.

It was a beautiful, sunny day.  There had been a hard freeze the night before and the snow-covered yard was capped with a layer of ice.  Jonas walked down to the fence bordering the yard, wanting to get as far away from the house as he could while still being in earshot of Mariah and Jemima.  He felt that they had no choice.  He and Mariah would have to find another place to live.  He was not at all convinced that the house would not engage in more mischief, for he was firmly convinced that the house had frightened Jemima with an image of her dead sister.

He didn’t know where they would go.  There weren’t any houses currently vacant in Constance, but he didn’t want to wait too long.  And he didn’t know how he would tell Mariah or how much he could tell her.  He thought she loved the house and couldn’t imagine her being willing to leave it without a lengthy discussion.  They could build their own house, he thought.  Something modest, perhaps, and more within their means.  Eventually, this house would be too expensive for them to live in, especially if they have children.  Perhaps that would be his argument.  Make it financial, he thought.  Convince Mariah that we might run out of money, that the house is becoming too expensive.  This is their first winter in the house and keeping it well-heated has cost more than they originally anticipated.

“Yes,” he said out loud.  “She would accept that.”  Convinced of his plan, Jonas jogged back up to the house to see if Mariah and Jemima were ready.

The house watched as Jonas approached.  What a pity, it thought.  Perhaps Jonas did not appreciate the house as much as it had thought he had.  Definitely not as much as the Kindfellows had.  They had loved the house, especially the children.  Oh, how much it wanted to have little children running through it again.  But if the Buckthorns left, there would be no children.  No laughter, no love.  Jonas would let the house rot.

And what about Mariah, beautiful Mariah who looked so much like Mrs. Kindfellow?  Wouldn’t she want to stay in the house forever, tending the gardens just as Mrs. Kindfellow had done?  But, no, the house learned.  Mariah too was feeling uncomfortable.  The house had eavesdropped on Mariah and Jemima while Jonas was busy keeping his thoughts hidden.

For Jemima’s sake, Mariah had assumed a festive air as they sorted through the girl’s clothes and carefully packed them.

“Your mother, I dare say, will be the happiest of all to see you arrive at their door,” Mariah said gleefully.  “Don’t you agree?”

Jemima laughed, her high spirits of the previous day, before Hannah’s visit, returning to her.  Mariah only half listened to Jemima’s playful response.  Another part of her was worrying over how she would tell Jonas that she no longer felt comfortable in the house.  There was something terribly odd about it.  Too many strange things happened, not the least of which was her husband’s talking to himself.  That worried her most and she was convinced that for his sake they should leave, sell the house to another family as Jonas had originally planned.

The house sighed and both Mariah and Jemima froze and looked at each other.  They had both heard the sigh but saw that it came from neither of them.  They looked out the window and saw Jonas jogging up the path and on into the house.  They heard the front door close and then the deadbolt fell into place.  Mariah frowned.  Jonas only secured the deadbolt at night, and they were getting ready to leave.

Jemima stood staring at Mariah, wondering why suddenly everything felt so strange.  She was filled with a sense of dread and all she could imagine was that Hannah was back.  She began to cower as Mariah zipped up Jemima’s bags, Mariah apparently not aware of the girl’s change in spirit.

“Here, Jemima, could you carry that small bag and I’ll get these two,” Mariah asked gently.  “Jonas must be waiting for us downstairs.”  Jemima picked up the small bag without saying a word and followed closely behind Mariah, wishing she could grabbed onto Mariah’s skirt the way she used to grabbed onto her mother’s when she was much younger.

As they reached the landing on the second floor, they both heard a faint rush of air and then a thud as something very heavy dropped on the floor below them.

“Jonas,” Mariah called out.  “Jonas, can you help us?”  She knew she was calling out in vain.  Somehow she knew that something terrible had just happened.  She heard Jemima begin to sob behind her and she leaned into the girl, setting down the bags so she could clutch Jemima to her chest.  They huddled on the stairs, their faces hidden in each other’s arms, softly sobbing.  They heard the heavy, slow footsteps.  They heard the ragged breathing of a man as he moved toward them.  They heard a swoosh as if an axe had just sliced through the air.

Chapter Sixty-Four

The door to Jemima’s room was wide open and moonlight filled the room.  Jonas could easily see that the bedclothes were tousled but not much else looked amiss.  He closed the door behind and sat down in the large upholstered chair by Jemima’s bed.  Mariah and Jonas had spent many hours in that chair, reading to Jemima while she was still too weak to leave the bed.

Now he sat in the chair and waited.  At some point he knew the house would speak to him.  He also knew that nothing the house told him could reassure him that anyone but he and Mariah were safe in the house, although he sometimes harbored doubts about their own safety.

“Do not worry,” the voice came, a mild vibration in Jonas’s head.  The house had decided to speak much sooner than Jonas expected.  Apparently, he thought, the house was fully cognizant of the night’s event.

“Do not worry about what,” Jonas asked out loud.  His voice was stern and paternalistic.  He felt his patience with the house ebbing away.

“There will be no more disturbances tonight,” the house replied.

“I want there to be no more disturbances ever again, not just tonight.”  Jonas felt helpless, though he tried to sound strong and forceful.  “What kind of life can Mariah and I have here if you insist on frightening anyone who visits us?”

“I did not frighten Jemima.”

Jonas rolled his eyes.  He was exhausted, not just from the night’s events, but from the many months he has carried the knowledge of the house within him, not daring to share what he knew with anyone, not even Mariah.

“Well, who did,” he asked the house, his voice carrying an undercurrent of sarcasm.

The house did not respond right away, and Jonas could feel that the house was displeased with Jonas’s tone of voice.

“Jemima was visited by her sister Hannah.  You remember Hannah, don’t you?”

The house returned Jonas’s sarcasm, causing the man to lower his head in fear.  Jonas did not want the house to be angry with him.  He was too afraid of what it could do.  He was afraid of what it had already done.

“Hannah slipped by me.  It was my mistake, but she will not trouble anyone anymore.”

“How can you be sure,” Jonas asked.

“She has been taken care of.  You do not need to worry.”

“You’ve said that before,” Jonas retorted, forgetting for a moment his fears.  He was thinking instead of poor Hannah and poor Jemima.  The house was responsible for Hannah’s death, he was sure of it.

“Why would Hannah have come back,” he asked, getting up from the chair to gaze out the window.

“She wanted Jemima.  She was lonely and she wanted Jemima.”  The house was not going to tell Jonas about Hannah’s plan to kill him and Mariah.  He needed to believe that she had only been after her sister.

Jonas sighed.  How can I ever understand any of this, he wondered. It’s all too fantastic.

“Do not worry,” the house said, in a soothing tone.  “You don’t need to understand.  There’ll be nothing more to disturb your days and nights as long as you and Mariah live here.”

“But what about others,” Jonas demanded.  “Can our friends feel safe here, too?  Or must they all be visited by ghosts?”

“As long as no one means you harm, they will be safe here.”

Fatigue fell over Jonas and he abruptly sat down on Jemima’s bed.  He tried to make his mind blank.  He didn’t want the house eavesdropping on his thoughts.  He had had enough for one night.

“Very well,” he said flatly and took himself off to the bedroom below where he would lay awake the rest of the night, listening for any odd sound from the master bedroom.

Chapter Sixty-Three

Jonas opened the bedroom door and saw nothing.  Mariah stood by his side, holding onto his arm, although he had just told her to wait in the bedroom.

“No, Jonas, I’m coming with you,” she said breathlessly.  “Jemima might be hurt.”

“Very well,” he said as he turned on the flashlight that he held in his hand.  The light tunneled through the dark hallway.  He thought he saw something move toward the staircase, and then they both heard someone pounding on the front door.

“Jemima,” said Jonas and they both moved swiftly toward the dark staircase.  Mariah hesitated at the top of the stairs while Jonas threw the light down toward the front door.  They saw Jemima slowly dropped to the floor, defeated by the deadbolt.  She leaned against the door and sobbed.  Mariah ran down the staircase ahead of Jonas and gathered Jemima into her arms.

Mariah cradled her, trying to reassure the trembling girl that everything was all right, that she was safe with them.  Jonas stood beside them, drawing the light about the room.  There was nothing, yet he felt an awful chill, as if a door or window had been left open.  But he knew that was impossible.  He had checked every door and window before going to bed.  He always did.

He knelt down in front of Mariah and gently moved Jemima from the warmth of Mariah’s arms.

“Jemima, what happened,” he asked, brushing her dark hair from her face.  “Did you have a nightmare?  What frightened you so?”

Jemima looked up into Jonas’s eyes.  He looked truly worried about her, as did Mariah.  She wanted to tell them what had happened, how Hannah had come to her room, how her dead sister had tried to make Jemima help her kill them, how Hannah had also planned to kill her.  She wanted to tell them everything, but she felt something odd about her person.  She moved away from Mariah and allowed Jonas to help her stand up.  She looked down at her nightgown.  It was dry and it was still white.

“Jemima, dear,” Mariah said as she put her arm around the girl’s shoulders.  “Was it a bad dream?  Do you want to talk about it?”

Jemima closed her eyes and tried to calm herself.  She wanted so much to tell them, but she couldn’t.  They couldn’t possibly believe her when she had no proof of Hannah’s visitation.  Her nightgown was undisturbed except for the wrinkles from her own struggles.  She recalled how Jonas had convinced everyone that she and Hannah had seen nothing in the master bedroom, how they had overactive imaginations.  For the first time, she was glad that Jonas had might light of their fright.

“Yes,” she said faintly. “It was an awful, awful nightmare.  I can’t talk about it now.  Perhaps in the morning.”

“Very well, dear child,” said Mariah soothingly.  She gently rubbed the girl’s shoulder.  “Perhaps we should just all go back to bed now.”

Jemima suddenly pulled herself away and grabbed the knob of the front door.

“I don’t want to go back to my room!  I don’t want to be alone!”  Jemima started to cry, terrified that Hannah would come back for her.  “Please,” she begged the Buckthorns.  “Please don’t make me go back up there.”

Jonas and Mariah looked at each other with wonder at Jemima’s behavior.  Without speaking, Jonas nodded to Mariah.

“Jemima,” Mariah said softly.  She again embraced the trembling girl.  “You can sleep with me in the master bedroom tonight.  Will that make you feel safe?”

Jemima stopped crying and looked over at Jonas.

“I’d like that,” she said, brushing a sleeve across her face.  “But, pray, sir, where will you sleep?”

Jonas smiled. “There are any number of bedrooms for me to choose,” he said, knowing full well that he would not get any more sleep that night, not until he knew exactly what had happened to so frighten Jemima.

“Oh, yes,” Jemima said shyly.  “Thank you so much.”

Jemima made no move to leave the front door.  She seemed to be hesitating, as if she had more to say.  Mariah and Jonas waited patiently, not wanting to distress the girl any more than she already had been.

“I don’t mean to be rude.  You both have been so wonderful to me,” she finally began.  She couldn’t bring herself to look at them, and let her hair fall across her face.  “I’ll be forever grateful for all the kindness you’ve shown me . . . but . . ..”  She stammered and then swallowed hard.  “May I please return to my family tomorrow?”  Her voice cracked as she tried to keep from crying again.

Mariah and Jonas again looked at each other in wonder, and again Jonas nodded at Mariah.

“Dear Jemima,” she said as she kissed the girl’s hair.  “You may go home whenever you like.  It’s entirely up to you.  We only want you to be happy.”

Jemima leaned into Mariah and let the woman fully embrace her.

Jonas escorted them to the bedroom.  He watched Mariah help Jemima into the large, soft bed, the small girl almost swallowed up by the pillows and comforter.  Mariah came to his side to wish him a good night.

“May you both sleep soundly and wake refreshed in the morning,” he told his wife and then kissed her forehead.  They both turned to look at Jemima, who, it appeared, was already asleep.

Jonas took his leave and closed the bedroom door.  He had decided to sleep in the bedroom next door, but first he needed to find out what had happened.  He didn’t believe that Jemima merely had a nightmare.  She had shown herself to be a sound sleeper during her stay with them, never once complaining of wakefulness or bad dreams.  Something had happened to her, and he was determined to find out what it was.

Chapter Sixty-Two

Hannah froze when she heard Jemima scream, her hand just touching the    doorknob.  She could hear movement behind the door and knew that the Buckthorns had been roused.  She looked at the knife in her hands.  Should I go after Jemima, she asked herself, or should I stay here and kill the Buckthorns?

“Which is more important to you,” a voice whispered in her head.  “Revenge or an end to your loneliness?”  Hannah shrieked with rage.  The house had been awake, watching and listening to them.

The doorknob turned and she heard Jonas say, “Stay in here, Mariah.  Let me find Jemima first.”

Hannah flew down the hallway, the knife extended before her.  She followed Jemima’s screams down the staircase and while Jemima was blind in the darkness, Hannah was not.  She found her sister at the front door, frantically pulling at the deadbolt.  In just a moment she would have her sister with her for eternity.  No more loneliness.

“You can have the Buckthorns,” she muttered under her breath as she raced toward Jemima.  “I’ll take Jemima.”  Then she heard a swoosh and she suddenly felt cold all over.  Confused, she stopped running, the knife only inches away from Jemima’s back.  Hannah looked behind her and saw the dark shape of a man and the glint of an axe.  She wanted to laugh.  Spirits can’t kill spirits, she thought as the man raised the axe above her head.  She turned toward Jemima, her poor sister still desperately trying and failing to budge the deadbolt.  Hannah leaned toward her and lifted the knife to level with Jemima’s back.  She heard another swoosh and then all was darkness.

Chapter Sixty-One

Hannah and Jemima walked down the stairs to the second floor.  Jemima started at any slight sound, her sister’s hand on her arm to be cold comfort.  The Buckthorns had placed nightlights at specific intervals in the baseboards, and the lights led them to the Buckthorn’s bedroom.  Cold air suddenly enveloped Jemima and she pulled Hannah back away from the door.  Hannah whipped around as she twisted Jemima’s arm.  Before Jemima could utter a sound, Hannah brought the knife up close to her face.

“What are you doing,” Hannah hissed at her trembling sister.  “You cannot back out now.  You must help me.  We must do this together.”

“I want to help you,” Jemima pleaded in a low whisper.  “The air just turned so terribly cold.  Didn’t you feel it?”

Hannah paused and then lowered the knife.

“I can’t feel anything,” she said, her eyes looking around the dark hallway.

“Hannah, please let out of my arm.  You’re hurting me.”

“I’m sorry,” Hannah whispered as she released Jemima’s arm.  “I don’t want to hurt you.  I’m just so lonely.”

Jemima stood, rubbing her arm and still trembling.  She loved Hannah and she didn’t want her to be lonely.  She wanted to help her, but she was afraid that Hannah meant to kill her so she would never have to be lonely again.  Jemima didn’t want to die and she didn’t want the Buckthorns to die either.  She began to back away from her sister, while Hannah turned toward the bedroom door.  She saw Hannah reach for the doorknob and again she felt a blanket of cold air close around her.

“No, Hannah, no,” Jemima screamed at the top of her lungs, splintering the dark silent air.  She turned away from Hannah and ran down the hallway, screaming, hoping the Buckthorns would wake up.  She heard Hannah scream, but she didn’t stop running.  She didn’t know if Hannah was following her.  She couldn’t bring herself to stop and look back.  All she knew was that she had to keep running.  She grabbed the banister and careened onto the staircase.  Without thinking, she threw herself onto the banister and slid down into utter darkness.  She fell to the floor but quickly got up, ignoring the pain in her tailbone, and threw herself at the front door.  She tried to open it but it was held fast by a heavy deadlock, placed awkwardly just above her head.  She was struggling to undo it when she heard a swoosh behind her, as if someone had sliced the air with a knife.

Chapter Sixty

Hannah had been right:  the house had relaxed, gone to sleep, and left itself vulnerable to intruders like Hannah.  But the house had learned it’s lesson long ago, and so it slept lightly.  The house knew that it and the Buckthorns were not out of danger as long as Jemima remained in the house. Unlike the spirit of Mr. Kindfellow’s best and dearest friend, the house did not have control over Hannah’s spirit, perhaps because Hannah had not committed murder.  Unlike the friend, whose spirit would always be tormented by the knowledge of crimes he committed and thus vulnerable to the house’s demands, Hannah’s spirit was not tormented by past crimes.  All she was truly guilty of was coveting Mariah, and all that drove her to covet Mariah was her frustration at not being understood.  She might have grown out of it had she lived to adulthood, or she might not, given her strong will.  In either case, her “crimes” were nothing that the house could use to control her.

So she was able to slip into the house and make her way to her sister’s room without the house being aware . . . until she scratched at the door, which was enough to alert the house that someone was astir.  And when she spoke, the house became fully alert, but it did not stir, it did not shake a shingle or draw up its shades.  It stayed still and listened.

That was another thing the house had learned:  to lull the intruders into thinking that the house was unaware.  As long as the intruders believed the house was asleep, they would gain confidence and make the mistake of thinking that they can get away with their evil deeds.  The house could wait until there was no turning back in their plan, and then take action.

Thus, the house eavesdropped on Hannah and Jemima’s conversation.  It felt a tinge of remorse when the girls embraced, more so for Jemima’s sadness than for what it had done to Hannah.  Jemima was merely Hannah’s puppet, the house thought, but in time, without Hannah to manipulate her, Jemima could grow to be a fully realized young woman, capable of making her own decisions, confident in her own thoughts and actions.

But here Hannah was working on Jemima’s love for her and fear of her.  The house noticed that Hannah still carried the knife and that she was capable of doing Jemima harm if she did not help Hannah.  Being still while the girls talked gave the house time to consider the many ways it could intervene.  For once, it considered the consequences of its actions.  With Jemima living in the house, it had grown to understand how it could inadvertently harm persons who had meant it no harm, like Jemima and her family.

When the house killed Hannah, it did not think about the effect of the girl’s death on her family.  The house loathed Hannah and did not think beyond its own desire to punish and destroy whoever stood in the way of its happiness and that of the Buckthorns.  Now it considered what to do, while the girls were still cloistered in Jemima’s room.  How to keep Jemima alive while destroying Hannah?  How to keep the Buckthorns innocent of Hannah’s return?  If Hannah has access to the Buckthorns, she would tell them everything, just as she was telling Jemima.  What if—the house abruptly stopped its cogitation.

“We have to kill Jonas and Mariah, now, while they are asleep.”

The words seared through the house’s thoughts and it took all its will to keep from shaking in raw anger.  Jemima’s will was bending, she was yielding to Hannah in spite of her obvious desire not to participate in such a hateful act.  Hannah was up to something, the house thought.  She doesn’t just want to kill the Buckthorns.  She could have done that by herself, although the house would have stopped her.  No, she wanted something from Jemima.

The house saw that Jemima didn’t really have a choice.  Hannah would not hesitate to kill her sister if Jemima refused to help.  And then the house understood what Jemima had yet to discern.  Hannah was lonely, perhaps as lonely as the house had once been.  Yes, she wanted to kill the Buckthorns.  She resented their happiness, even more so now that she was alone in the dark world of the dead.  She would seek their demise for its own sake, but then she would kill her own sister and force Jemima’s spirit to be her companion for eternity.  Hannah’s selfishness knew no bounds, the house thought.  It felt it had no choice but to protect the Buckthorns even at the expense of Jemima’s life.  The house could only hope that with Jemima’s spirit to keep Hannah company, she might at least leave the house forever.

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Jemima dropped her hands from Hannah’s shoulders.  She didn’t want to do this.  She didn’t want to kill anyone.

“Surely there is another way we can punish the house without killing them,” Jemima pleaded.

“No, Jonas and Mariah are all that the house cares about.  Without them, it will decay and slowly, painfully become more and more lonely until it dies,” Hannah hissed, her anger and her will gradually overpowering Jemima.  Even in death, Hannah could overcome all her younger sister’s hesitations, reservations, and fears.  She could make Jemima assume Hannah’s will as her own, as she had done with they had tried to come between Jonas and Mariah.

“But won’t the house stop us,” Jemima asked.

“It’s asleep right now.  That’s why I was able to get through.  Once Mariah declared that you were ready to go home, the house relaxed and let down its guard, thinking only of your departure.  But it could wake any moment so we must be swift.”  Hannah grabbed her sister’s arm with her free hand and displayed the knife.  “It’s a very sharp blade.  We just need to cut their throats and then it will all be over.  We can do that very quietly, so quietly than neither they nor the house will wake up.”

Jemima quailed before the large bloodied knife.  “Why do you need me then?  Can’t you do it yourself?”

“Don’t be a coward, Jemima,” Hannah said brusquely as she lowered the knife.  “I can’t do this alone.  I need you with me.  If they happen to wake and see you, they won’t be frightened.  They won’t wake the house.”

“I’m not a coward,” Jemima retorted, offended and hurt by her sister’s accusation.  “I’m just being logical.  I just want to understand.”

Hannah gazed at Jemima with a familiar impatience and then smiled condescendingly.  “Well, do you understand now?”

Jemima nodded and said no more.  She didn’t really understand.  She felt that Hannah wasn’t being entirely honest with her, but she didn’t want to say so.   There was more to it, she thought to herself as she followed Hannah out of her bedroom.  In death as in life, Jemima had no choice but to trust her sister and hope that Hannah meant her no harm.

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Jemima had been lying awake, staring at the hoary moon outside her window.  She would miss the attic room.  She saw so much of the sky from her window and she particularly liked looking at the night sky, at the stars, and now the moon, so full and big.  She was just starting to fall asleep when she heard the sound.  It was quite faint, but just outside her door.  A light scratching, like a cat.  But the Buckthorns didn’t have a cat.

Could be a mouse, she thought, and then she sat up straight.  “Oh, I hope it’s not a rat,” she said out loud, drawing her blankets up to her chin.  She had a terrible fear of rats but she hadn’t seen one in all the months she was at the Buckthorns.  The scratching continued, and now she thought of something else, something much more frightening than a rat.  When they were very little, Hannah and Jemima used to scratch at their parents’ bedroom door when they wanted in.  Neither of them cared for the abrupt jarring sound of a knock, even their own knocks made by little soft fists.  So they would scratch until one or both of their parents woke.  It was one way they learned to be very patient.

Jemima shivered and hugged her blanket closer, her thin figure trembling.  The scratching continued, and then a soft, sweet, and achingly familiar voice spoke.

“Jemima, please let me in.  Please, Jemima.”

Tears came to Jemima’s eyes.  It wasn’t possible, she thought.  It can’t be possible.  They had found her.  Unless . . ..   A new thought came to her mind, one that she hadn’t dared to entertain before.  Unless it wasn’t Hannah that they found.  It was someone else.  It had been a closed casket, she reminded herself.  And the locket might not have been hers.  She recalled how grief-stricken her mother had been and thought that her mother might have been mistaken about the locket.  Lots of girls their age had silver lockets.  It was a common gift when they turned thirteen.

“Jemima, please,” the voice said with more urgency and loud enough that Jemima recognized her sister’s voice.  She threw off her blankets and rushed to the door, convinced now that her sister was alive, that someone else had been found in the river.  She pulled open the door, preparing to throw herself into Hannah’s arms, when the sight of the apparition froze her into place.  She could not speak or move for the horror of what she saw was too great.

It was Hannah standing before her, wearing the same clothes that she was last seen in.  But she was carrying a bloodied kitchen knife and the front of her dress was sliced open, showing gaping, bloody wounds on her abdomen.  Her face was angry and she walked toward Jemima, who stumbled backward toward her bed, her face a frozen portrait of terror.

“Yes, Jemima, I am dead,” said Hannah through clenched teeth.  “The house did this to me.  The house killed me and had me thrown into the river.  The house is evil.”

Jemima put her hands to her mouth, as if to keep herself from screaming.  She was terrified but it was her sister before her.  She still couldn’t’ believe Hannah was dead, not with her standing right in front of her.  Hannah was so close to her that Jemima could feel her breath on her face, smell the blood from her wounds, and sense her anger.

“It’s taken me a long time to get to you.  The house is strong and fought me back every time I tried.”  Hannah smiled and looked triumphant.  “But I succeeded this time.  I couldn’t let you leave without telling you everything.  Without you helping me one last time.”  The look of triumph quickly gave way to sadness and Hannah’s eyes became misty with tears.

“I miss you, Jemima,” she said softly, her voice breaking.  “I miss you so much.”

Jemima began to cry, her heart breaking at the sadness in Hannah’s voice.  “I miss you too.  I wish I could hold you.”  Jemima looked down at Hannah’s blood-soaked dress.  “Would it hurt you if I did?  I’m not worried about the blood. Would it hurt you?”

“No, I want to hold you too.”  Hannah opened her arms, still holding the knife, and Jemima embraced her sister.

Jemima felt the icy blood ooze from the wounds and onto her nightgown.  What a horrible, horrible thing to happen to Hannah, she thought as she hugged Hannah tighter, feeling Hannah’s arms about her, one hand rubbing her back.  Before this moment, Jemima had never realized just how much she loved and needed her sister.  Her grief and necessary convalescence was a good measure, but to embrace a bloodied specter without fear was a far greater measure.

“Why did the house do this,” she whispered into Hannah’s ear.  Hannah pulled back so they could face each other, but Jemima’s nightgown stuck to her wounds and she gently peeled it away.  Jemima was not disgusted by Hannah’s efforts, but rather thought more tenderly toward her.

“I was angry,” said Hannah.  “I couldn’t pretend anymore that I was happy for Jonas and Mariah.  I wanted to do something to show how I angry and betrayed I felt.  I thought I was cutting apart the quilt we made, but instead I was plunging the knife into my own stomach.”

Hannah had spoken matter-of-factly, but Jemima gasped.  “Didn’t you feel any pain,” she asked incredulously.

Hannah sighed.  “I was so angry, Jemima.  I felt cramps but I didn’t realize until too late what I had done to myself.  That is, what the house had made me do to myself. “

Jemima could feel a flame of anger ignite within her, anger toward the house for hurting her sister and taking her away from everyone who loved her.  She didn’t care about Jonas and Mariah at that point.  She had almost forgotten them, until Hannah mentioned their names.  It was strange hearing Hannah call by them their given names.  A sign of disrespect, Jemima thought.  But Mariah and Jonas had been very good to her while she stayed with them, and they had helped her get better so she could now go home to her own family.

“I know they were good to you,” Hannah said, startling Jemima.  “Yes, Jemima, I can read your thoughts.  It’s perhaps the only good thing about being dead,” she added sarcastically.  “But you must put aside your feelings for them.  It’s the only way we can get back at the house for what it did to me.”

“What do you mean,” Jemima asked, afraid that she already knew the answer.

“We have to kill Jonas and Mariah, now, while they are asleep.”

Chapter Fifty-Seven

From the moment he heard of Hannah’s disappearance, Jonas had suspected the house.  She was seen going toward the outhouse, but not into it.  She would have been seen leaving the party, especially if she had gone to the pool.  She would have crossed the lawn, at any point.  There was no way she could have walked away from the house without being seen.

Yet, Jonas found no evidence that she had ever been in the house.  He looked, he surely looked and the house complained loudly inside his head, so no one else could hear.

“Why do you not trust me,” the voice reverberated, so loud in Jonas’ head, he winced in pain.

“I do trust you, but I understand that she might have upset you.  If she was here, please tell me . . . where can I find her?” Jonas was in the master bedroom, examining the floorboards.

“She has not been here,” claimed the house.  It felt shaken that Jonas would immediately suspect that it had harmed Hannah.  She had harmed herself, as Joseph’s mother Eleanor had harmed herself.  If she had left the house alone, not interfered with its plans, its dreams, nothing would have happened to her.  But the house couldn’t tell Jonas.  It knew he wouldn’t understand.  He would blame the house.

So it kept quiet.

Published in: on March 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter Fifty-Six

During Jemima’s convalescence, the house was subdued.  It watched Jemima to see if she might turn out like Hannah, but she was quite a different girl.  She was not as possessive as her sister had been, although it knew she was loathe to leave the Buckthorns.  But the ties to her family were stronger than her love for Mariah and Jonas, as they should be.  The house was relieved when she decided on the date that she would go back home.  It hadn’t wanted to push her out, to frighten her, and force her somehow to leave the Buckthorns.  The house wanted to enjoy the young couple before they started their family, although it was looking forward to the children that it was sure would be twins of the Kindfellow children.

Jonas spoke with the house frequently, reassuring it that Mariah and he were happy there.  He seemed concerned that the house thought they were unhappy or that their friends, such as Jemima, might mean them harm.  He frequently mentioned Hannah, which made the house wonder if he knew.

“She was seen going to the outhouse, and then she’s gone.  Her body was so distorted by the time she was found, they thought the rocks caused the lacerations on her stomach.”  Jonas was sitting in the small alcove that looked over the orchard.  “That poor child.  She was so young.”  Jonas seemed sincerely sad over Hannah’s death, but the house stayed quiet, knowing it was better to not say anything than try and pretend to sympathize.

It had seen Mariah watching Jonas.  It knew she was suspicious.  The house had never spoken to Mariah, even though she had seemed to believe Hannah and Jemima when they told of the fright they experienced in the master bedroom.  But it was cautious.  She was the namesake of the Kindfellow’s oldest daughter.  She was destined to live in the house as much as Jonas was.  But she was nervous.  The house had to tell Jonas to be careful, to not make Mariah suspicious. She might become afraid of him, and that could not be.  The house wanted a family again, like the Kindfellows, at any cost.

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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