You know what they say, darling, there is no place like home.
The night is bright with fires and they call to him. But he moves by each, garbed in black, toward a smaller flame in the distance. It’s not so bright, not so intense or hateful. It’s beauty is quaint, far-away, and appealing.
The town is near-empty. Silent. The deep fog, for which the town is named, rolls in inoffensively by his ankles and dip them in cold kisses.
He can see the ghost light far away is guiding him. He’s not afraid.
A truck rolls past and vanishes off on the horizon. Deposits of the winter hang under the rims and spill salt and clumps of dirty snow on the road. Then silence again when it leaves. More fog. The far-away grey light.
He’s getting closer to the flame and finds it hidden inside an old corn depot on the edge of the town. When he was a boy they use to turn the depot into a haunted house. But when he was a boy it had no ghosts. Inside the ghost light beckons him.
Gently, the cobwebs are parted, and he slides the large side door open. Suspended in mid-air, at the center of the dark place, a tiny fire as big as his balled fist. This isn’t a summons by some great spirit.
Only a girl.
Modest in clothes; jeans, white t-shirt, red apron. She’s pale, her eyes are icy, her hair is red. When she speaks it’s a whisper, emanating from a hole in her throat. As big as an eye. It breathes smoke on occasion.
‘I knew you’d come. When the night came, I knew you’d come with it. The way I know my own name, the way I know that when I screamed and screamed and screamed and wouldn’t be quiet he took my hair and put a hole in my throat. The way I know these things. I knew you’d come.’ She walks around the tiny flame floating in mid-air, and holds her hands behind her back in a girlish posture.
‘What’s your name?’
‘And why have you called me?’ His voice is gentle.
‘Well isn’t that obvious? I want you to help me. I want you to get me out of here.’
‘You have to say it, Amelia. What you want from me. That’s how it works.’
The ghost of the girl with the hole in her throat makes a cautious look and pivots quickly, facing her back to him, she reaches out and touches the flame. It fluctuates in size and brightness for a moment and then returns to it’s original state.
‘I want you to kill him. I want you to kill him dead for what he did to me.’
‘And you will surrender to the current?’
‘Yeah, yes. I mean. I’ll surrender to it.’
He reached out and put his hand under the ghost light…
Shut the fuck up, you dumb bitch.
Help! Help me! Help!
I said, shut the fuck up! He grabs her by the hair to lift her head up. She can’t stay still in the trunk, even with her ankles and wrists bound, the whole car creaks and rocks from her outburst and struggle. He puts the small-bore pistol under her chin.
She screams. The woods around them carry the words. He tilts the pistol down to her throat for either a vague threat or his true desire, in this shameful moment, for silence. The Courier sees all this, through their eyes. This moment to define them.
She won’t stop screaming. So he fires. The spray of blood is jarring.
Her eyes grow wide and she starts to croak, like a toad.
He falls backwards onto the grass and she dies in the trunk.
Silence falls on the forest. The summer wind is still.
‘His name is Aden Holt. You know him?’
‘In passing.’ He said.
‘You know you’re more likely to get killed by someone you know like a loved one than a stranger? That’s a fact. I read it once in a book.’ Amelia said, staring emptily at the floating flame.
‘I’ve heard that, yes.’
‘I’m kind of a statistical anomaly.’ Amelia said, halfheartedly.
He reaches into the sabretache and removes the Writ, it’s stony black surface rejects all light. With both hands he holds it out to Amelia.
‘Do I say anything?’ She asked.
‘No, you can’t say anything it doesn’t already know.’
‘How’re you going to do it?’
‘Kill him. How’re you going to do it?’
‘Does it matter?’
She’s quiet and brings her pale fingers up to touch the offered end of the mask.
‘Been wanting this for such a long time. So long, years. Has it been years? Felt like eternity. No, I don’t think it does matter. Just that it’s done. Just so it’s over.’
There’s a brief, white glow from the etched spiral at the center of the Writ and then all is calm. Her fire flickers as if a ghostly wind passed over it and then more silence.
She looks at the tall figure in black and knots her hands.
‘I’ll just know, right? When you kill him.’
‘When it’s done, it’ll be done. The circle between you two will close.’
‘But will I feel it?’
‘In a way. Yes.’
‘You grew up here, didn’t you?’
‘On Corinthian Hill.’ He said.
‘Then you know, they use to make this place into a haunted house. Around Halloween.’
‘It crossed my mind when I saw your fire. I remember when I was a boy, it scared me.’
She wraps her arms around herself and stares at the empty, wooden ceiling and the fragments of hay protruding from cracks.
‘Ironic. Ain’t it?’ Her smile is hollow, distant, as the whisper of her words.
When he leaves the old depot the night has not changed. The long walk that follows is done in narrow focus. All the way to the front door of the Holt House. The side door up the driveway is locked.
He reaches into his sabretache and produces a rusted key. Only the bow is intact, the shank and bit were replaced with an eerily thin finger-bone. It fit into the lock and immediately became animate.
Once the lock clicks, the finger-bone becomes still, and he returns it to the sabretache and creeps inside without a sound.
Aden sits with his back to the blinded windows. He holds a can of beer in his hand and the lamp light hangs over his mean face. His eyes thoughtfully narrow as the shadow of the hooded figure stands in the connecting threshold between the living room and the kitchen.
‘Knew you was comin’.’
‘How?’ The courier said, calmly.
‘Felt it, all the sudden. Like a chill. And I knew. My pappy felt somethin’ like it when he died. We was just sittin’ in the boat out by the lake and he grabbed my shirt and he said he was finished. Finished. Then we got home, he laid in bed and died. Shit.’
‘Do you know why this is the hour of your death?’
‘I guess so. Guess I always wondered if it’d catch up to me. She just wouldn’t shut up, you know? Probably wouldn’t a been so bad. I just wanted to fuck her, is all. But she just wouldn’t shut up. I couldn’t…’ Aden pulls the clip of the beer can so it cracks and foams. He shakes away the run-off and has a drink.
The Courier takes the Writ and places it to his own face; his skin splitting around the edges as it sears itself to him. He feels all his muscles gather and snap and reshape into iron cords. He feels his heart beat grow slower and slower and he can hear the life-cycle of a near-by gnat as it skirted the warnings of a luminescent zapper, then screams in 1,000 volts of glory.
He holds in his own screams. His hand shakes from a tremor and the rest of the pain he shakes from him, rolling his neck, and the Writ assumes control.
‘Do I get a last request?’ Aden asks.
It draws Falx, a black sickle-like blade, from the sheath on It’s back.
‘Just let me finish this beer, that’s all I want.’
The Writ came around the couch and sat at the end, close to Aden. Quiet and with Falx resting on its lap, It waits.
‘Is it goin’ to hurt?’
He looks at the masked figure next to him as It shakes It’s head.
Aden’s skin is red and his eyes sting. He tells himself he’s been waiting for this moment since he killed that girl and all points have connected him here. The Writ stares at his tearful eyes without pity.
‘You know where I’m to go?’
‘Where all go.’ The Writ answers.
‘Am I to go to Hell?’
‘No.’ It’s voice is like the memory of a voice, spoken through static and white noise.
‘How can that be? How can I not go to Hell for what I done?’
‘There is no Hell. There is only what comes.’
The beer is empty and the Writ stands from the couch.
It stands over Aden, all in black, with Falx gripped tightly in It’s gloved right hand.
Aden stares back and a thought forms on his trembling lips.
Thwap. The blade comes down. Blood sploshes onto the walls and furniture with fragments of skull and brain matter that scatter under the blow. Thwap. A second hit eases the twitch from Aden’s hands as they hold the arms of his chair. His head is in twine and it’s contents begin to spill, dislodged from their carriage.
The Writ removes the blade and wipes it clean with a dish towel. The sacred act is performed, It sees no more reason for It’s presence, sheathing Falx and removing itself from the Courier’s face afterward.
The Courier’s hands shake, bile lifts in his throat, but he has to stomach it. He returns the mask to the sabretache and looks back at the mutilated body slumped in the chair.
From Aden’s chest a phantasmal chain appears, stretched to it’s limit, then snapped by some tremendous force. It dissolves like fog.
The Courier hears a whisper in his mind.
And then silence.