Lester was driving. Tobias was riding shotgun. I sat behind Tobias. Anna sat behind Lester. Between us sat a pristine edition of "The Occurrences at Kingsley Manor," freshly printed from the library that morning and placed carefully into a clear plastic sleeve. You could tell we cared about the condition of this manuscript because we only let Anna touch this edition. We were heading west.
"Candace just doesn't sound like an older lady's name to me," Tobias was shouting back at me, flipping through his own copy of the manuscript.
"Acts 8:27," I said. "She was the queen mother."
He was silent for awhile so I looked out the window at my thoughts. "I think Raymond should have a mustache." It was my turn to be silent. "Look, if you want this to work, you're gonna have to accept my help. I know movies, man. I know what's gonna work."
I wanted to tell him that I knew movies better than him and that he was just a stupid kid. I wanted to tell him that I was a brilliant writer and my story was perfect. Not that I really believe that, but this punk was annoying. I reminded myself that I wasn't doing any of this for me. I was doing it for Lester. And for Tobias.
We were headed for California, where Tobias had what he called "connections". We were headed out to see if we could sell a script to a producer and get our own movie made. Our script would be adapted from the Gothic short story I had written earlier. The four of us would work on it in the car, all the way to Hollywood, converting the short story to screenplay. Initially, Anna said she had work, but there was no way I was going without her, and once I explained the idea of helping Lester and Tobias live a better story she said, "Well, there's no way I would want to miss that." I didn't ask her how she got out of her work, but she seemed real happy to be with us. Even with her next to me, though, I knew it was going to be a long ride.
The Occurrences at Kingsley Manor by Raymond Timmerwilke
Early in the night, though everyone in the house had laid in bed for a couple of hours, Candace Kingsley, the mother of the household awoke from the sound. This sound, incessant in nature, had a rhythm that only just sparked the idea in Candace’s mind that the cause was unnatural. Until now she had surmised the continual knocking, the infuriating tap tap tap had been a tree branch scraping against a window or a wounded jackal attempting to put himself out by dashing his head against the stone building, relieving his pain. The sound had continued for the past four nights, but until now Candace chose to ignore the origin. Snatching her overcoat and donning her boots, Candace tromped across the wooden floor of her chamber, out into the hallway and down the steps to the only door of entry and exit.
Flying out of the house and into the cold, night air, she pulled her coat closer around her and walked around the left side of the great house where, this close, the tap tap tap was more of a thud thud thud. The moon was full and the sky cloudless, allowing for enough sight without a lantern. As she turned the corner, she raised her hand to stifle the scream, for what she saw was an entity like a tall man in the dark shadow of a tree with a large pile of rocks at his feet and in his arms. These stones, he flung at the side of the mansion, one after another, as if in a trance, locked in a continuous cycle. “Lord, protect me.” With gained courage Candace walked over to the man who she could now see was an elder, as herself, but of a strong build. His eyes stared ahead of him, at his arduous task, until Candace spoke and released him from his rotation. “Sir, forgive my intrusion, but you are in fact an intruder yourself of my house and of my sleep.”
It took him a few moments to reply, as if he had to recollect himself and turning to her said, “Forgive me.” Candace gasped when she saw his face, but the stranger continued, unaware. “I have been wandering these grounds for the past few days with no recollection of any life I have lived before. I only know that I am here and that I would very much be pleased to have a place to rest. I huger and I thirst and feel peculiar. I believe I would be a worthy houseguest and conversationalist, as long as you do not inquire of me to become a manservant. I do know that I do not have that in me.”
His speech was slow and his pale eyes appeared as if they looked nowhere at all times, but he held his shoulders and head as if he was of a noble family. Even still, he was strange and a stranger at that, and if it were not for his face, Candace would have never invited him in, which she did presently.
Leaving him on a chair in the kitchen, she woke the servants and sent them at once to make up a room and a small dinner. After these necessities, she roused her three sons from their separate chambers and the four descended the stairs together to meet the stranger as one. As they entered the kitchen, the three sons indicated their astonishment with their faces and took chairs opposite the stranger.
The stranger already had a plate of eggs he was halfway finished with and a glass of brandy set before him. His face was more full of colour than it was outside and his austerity gave way to kindness. Preston, the oldest son, leaned forward on his chair, his face still marked with perplexity. Lennon, the middle son, could not keep from smiling, though he crossed his arms. Abner, the youngest, held a tear in his eye and peered at the stone floor to conceal it. Candace remained standing and said, “Sir, please may I inquire of your name?”
“Dougal,” the stranger answered cheerfully, dabbing his beard with a napkin. “And might I say—” He stopped as Candace sighed, Preston threw up his arms, Lennon’s smile diminished, and Abner lifted his head. “May I ask what is the matter?”
“You will have to forgive us,” Candace answered. It is just that you look very much like my husband.”
“And is it possible I am he?”
“No. He died years ago. So you can imagine why you have sent us into some sort of shock.”
“Indeed. And yet I have no knowledge of who I am. Is it possible that you are mistaken about your husband’s death?”
The three sons turned to see their mother’s face as she said, “No. It is quite impossible.”
“You must forgive my questioning then.”As Dougal said this, Candace walked to his side and sat beside him. At this scene, so well-remembered and yet so long gone and thought gone forever, Preston and Lennon began to let tears flow freely, all the while apologizing and trying to cover their faces with their hands.
“Forgive us! Our father, we have not yet grown accustomed to life without him,” Lennon said.
“God bless him, but it is nice to see you as a reminder. I feel invigorated somehow by your presence,” Preston added.
“And I am greatly honoured,” Dougal replied, bowing to them with a gleam in his eye. “If my presence is too much, I beg you to send me away. I do not intend to cause unnecessary despair.
“But stay!” Lennon called out.
“Mother Candace! We cannot leave this man without a place to live,” Preston said. “Not in the state he is in, certainly. I believe God may have sent him to us for a purpose, for a safe haven, as a lost soul, to find who he is. To this task, Sir Dougal, I offer my undying assistance for I am a man of God with a position of some prominence at the local church.”
“I accept your offer eagerly,” Dougal answered. “That is, if your mother agrees to the notion and only if everyone present is sure that I will cause no sort of grievance to any of this fatherless family, who seem so united by love!”
To this, all spoke loudly of their approval, besides Abner who stared hard with cold eyes at the old man. Though at the insistence of his brothers, with loud slaps on his back, he nodded his agreement. Abner, however, looked to Candace for some sort of resistance, but she, now standing, smiled and offered her hand to Dougal, which he eagerly accepted. “Allow me to show you to your room which has been set with every amenity fit for your comfort. You shall stay as long as you like or as long as you shall need!”
The pair debarked hand-in-hand, as if her husband had never been lost, and ascended the staircase to the guestroom. When they were alone in the chamber, Dougal said, “I fear your youngest, Abner, has some unspoken resistance to my being in your household. Perhaps I am too much like his father and is heartbroken at this sudden reminder?”
“If that were the case, I believe he would have acted in the same manner as my two other sons. No, there is another reason, but of course you know it not,” Candace answered gesturing him to sit in an easy chair while she took a seat herself on the edge of the bed. “Allow me to relieve your ignorance and dispel your unease at his reaction. You see, Abner is not ours— not borne from Henry, my husband, and myself. He is not of our flesh and blood as Preston and Lennon are. No, we were forced to keep him when our foreign servant-girl became pregnant with another servant of her kind from the neigbouring house. Being, unmarried, we could not leave her unpunished. So, in company with our dear neighbors we decided it was best to send the foreign manservant who impregnated her away. Our servant girl could hardly stand it and wept all night long in her chamber, ceasing her mourning only to perform her daily duties to us. But her eyes were always red and she no longer spoke to us. She became ill and weak, and I think only retained her strength for her son, for when he was birthed, she gave in and drew her last breath just days after. Mind you, this was nineteen years ago.
“Being of charitable nature, and constantly feeling the need to appease guilt, my dear Henry took him as our own, though I would rather he had let the child grow up as one of the servants. But he was so good! More benevolent than I, he took him in. But if he only knew what would come of it! Of course he could not love the boy, he was not his own! And a foreigner at that! We tried at the beginning, we gave him an English name and tried to teach him to be as one of us, but it was not in his nature. His disposition was so contrary to ours, so uncivilized and so resolutely unchristian, that we gave up hope. We did all we could and in charity we did not give him away or send him back to the servants. We, being Christian, still called him son!
“And yet how strong was his desire to change Henry’s heart! Our boy, Abner, he sought always the approval of dear Henry. But how could he? It was not in his nature to be able to perform in any way worthy of approval. Try as he might to please, to act christian, he failed outright as if by default. How could Henry have returned the love of our Abner when he failed to make himself worthy of it? It is only after Henry’s death, that Abner has quieted and become somewhat civilized. At least he is quiet and now attends to the house as if he were a servant. I’m afraid that your presence might invoke some reaction, but pay it no mind, as—”
“But I do pay it mind, ma’am. Your story has touched me, and now that I know the boy Abner’s story, I believe I may amend his spirit with some simple words. I do have a way with my speech, and implore you to at least let me give it an attempt. We will converse more tomorrow, for you ought to be getting to bed. Let me not prolong your sleep any longer than I have. Send the boy to my chamber and retire to your own. Tomorrow morning you will see yourself, if I have succeeded in my endeavor. Goodnight!”
“Goodnight! I look forward to your company. You already seem such a light, if I may echo the sentiments of my true sons.”
“I thank you,” Dougal said, bowing as he saw her to the door. “Give my goodnight to your true sons.”
Dougal remained at the door, lost in thought, while waiting for Abner. As the steps echoed down the hallway gave way to his coming, Dougal smoothed his coat and unkempt beard as best he could. The knock came and he opened it instantly with a smile. “Welcome!” Abner entered and Dougal beckoned him to the easy chair he had moments before occupied. Dougal sat opposite as Candace had. “Abner, I could not help but to notice that you did not at once welcome the idea of housing me here in your home, and of that I am dismayed. I hope I have not offended you in any way. And if you say now, I will leave. But your mother has provided me the details of your upbringing, and I hope you will ask me to remain, finding that I am not unlike yourself and have experienced the woes of being a stranger. I am now here in your house as one and must prove my value, lest I be asked to leave. You see, we all make for ourselves the way that we are, whether beneficial or detrimental to those around us. We either make for ourselves the ability to be accepted or rejected. And so I would like to be of value to you so that I might be accepted by you. Hear me out, I beg you, lest you become the one who prejudices against me. You know not who I really am! But before I go further I will not be first so fast prejudiced against you as to allow you no opportunity to make a reply or to make your own case for your up-bringing.”
“I thank you for the occasion to speak, sir, for I do have a speech to make and my own story to share. I only tell you because I feel something from your very presence that is . . . unsettling. And I cannot wrap my head around the feeling, whether it is good or bad. All I know is that it is powerful.”
“I hope by the end of our discourse you find you can trust me. But, I interrupt. Go on, I listen now absolutely.”
“Thank you, sir. I have told my brothers this tale, but they fail to hear. Leastways, they do nothing about it. I take you back years ago, to the time when my father, Henry, was still living. The house was in general good order. No one had any ill favour towards any other, excepting myself, but as you said, my mother has told my tale. In any case, father seemed to love mother and mother seemed to love father as any good marriage works. Things changed. Harsh whispers began. Soft yelling was replaced with smiles and embraces when Preston or Lennon walked into the room. They did not try to convey the farce when I was around though, for they cared not about what I might feel. This did not deter me from sharing all I perceived with my brothers and though they, at first, laughed the allegations away, after a time while I persisted in my stories, their joviality gave way to grave silence and stricken faces. Even they could, despite demanding schedules which kept them absent a lot, perceive something was different between mother and father. One day, when they were away from the mansion, the quiet dissonance erupted into menacing laughter and as I peeked into the kitchen through the ajar door, I saw Candace pouring my father a glass of brandy, making a drunkard out of a noble and christian man. I hated her in that moment for that, for he was no drinking man, and it was clear to me she had some motive. His laugh was maniacal and she smiled deviously. I have never seen such a gruesome display of perverted mirth. And then the horror! I beg to God to seal my mouth shut now if what I saw next was a deception on mine eyes! For as my father let loose a peal of laughter, his head lolling on the table, Candace held a small vial with which she poured the contents therein contained into my father’s drink. I rubbed my eyes and the vial was gone and my mother never looked so evil nor so innocent and my father by her side was sipping the drink. Fearing that I would be found out, I tiptoed away and up to my chamber where I tried to find rest, but could not sleep. What was like hours later, but I know not exactly the time, a horrible scream from my mother spiraled throughout the house, a doctor was called, my brothers scurried home, and that great and noble father of ours was pronounced dead from, as the records show, old-age and overwork.”
His story had ceased and the pair sat unblinking for a time before Dougal asked, “So you judge that Henry died at your mother’s hand?”
They conversed long thereafter before Abner withdrew to his own chamber. The darkness passed and the mansion was still. All slept extra so as to make up for the time spent late in meeting Dougal. With the foggy morning came a loud and quick banging on the door of entry, waking the house, stirring it, as the inhabitants rushed down in their nightclothes to determine the source. In rushed the elder neighbours, Edgar and Edith Sanderson, who were of wealth, and a handsome, young couple, fashionably dressed. They were all out of breath, and in a panic, besides the young man who looked concerned, yet calm and dignified. Ushering them into a sitting room, they took seats and were beckoned to have their say. Along with the Kingsley family, Dougal was among them. After a moment of silence, when they had composed themselves, Edgar began: “This morning I awoke at a standard time, preceding everyone else, and began my day as I always have. After some time, the others of the house woke and went about their duties, but I noticed one was not among them. My son, Ryker, is often up early and away to see to his duties at the church. I thought he must have gone even earlier than I woke to pray, but since he always informs us of this intention the preceding evening, I suspected something was amiss.”
Here Edith continued: “My dear Edgar asked me to accompany him with the mission to check up on poor, dear Ryker and when I knocked long enough without an answer, we entered together. To our horror— he—” She broke into sobs and Edgar comforted her.
The young man finished in an unfaltering voice: “They found Ryker lying still in his nightclothes, but in a bed soaked with blood and a steak-knife plunged deep in his heart. The terror of whatever befell him is still plastered on his face, I saw so myself.” Lennon met the gaze of the young woman for a moment, while Preston shifted in his seat. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Raymond, brother to Belinda here, who you may know to have been betrothed to the recent deceased. Edgar has requested my presence as protector and chief investigator.”
“We shall be sure to offer any assistance that may be requested, but at the present we have—” Candace began.
“Your assistance shall be requested here and now,” Raymond interrupted coolly, “for the knife found in Ryker was from your household!”
At this news, the family looked around at each other until each found their gaze rested upon the stranger, Dougal. “Raymond,” Preston said as he stood. “I believe you should take note that this man here came upon this house in a most peculiar fashion, throwing rocks against our house and with the claim of no remembrance of his past life. He is a stranger and as all here can attest to, even Edgar and Edith, he has a striking resemblance to our late father, Henry. I only present these because they are the facts and no one in this family would ever lay a hand on our dear neighbour, Ryker. In short, Raymond, I believe we have no need for you. We have our murderer.”
“I can assure you,” Dougal said as composed as ever, “I am guilt free of the deed. Perhaps an inquisition would be right and proper. I will even volunteer to be the first questioned so that I may absolve myself from this assassination.”
A room was set up for the interrogation with a desk set in the centre, paper and ink provided, so that Raymond could inventory everything he thought necessary or helpful. Two desk chairs were brought to surround it, facing each other. Edgar and Edith returned to their own house to see to the removal of the body and to make funeral preparations. Belinda remained for she stated, “I cannot bear to look upon him, nor to stay in the same house. Allow me to stay here, close to my brother for the day. I fear I will spend the day weeping while the only one who can comfort me sits at trial with my dear Ryker’s murderer. Ah, God, what have I done to deserve such a day! Send me to a room where I will be of no bother to anyone and can sob without notice. I care not if the murderer takes me next!”
Dougal, as stated, was the first to sit across from the frowning inquisitor, followed by Preston, Lennon, Abner, and finally Candace as requested by Raymond. She did not come on her own accord. The servants were questioned, but largely dismissed as suspects since none slept alone and all vouched for each other’s alibis. Raymond was not, however, going to rule them out and planned to pick up any information they might offer at a later time and in a more informal setting. His day was used absolutely, and though Belinda spent the day occupied weeping and Preston in praying, the others spent the day lost in their imaginations, wandering from room to room, exchanged glances and a few choice words, before meandering to another place to sit in suspended trepidation. Dougal chatted the most, and though he was now feared because the most unknown and in light of the circumstances, his words, genuine smile, and gentle old spirit lent themselves to some comfort of behalf of the others. Abner, as well, was noticeably altered. He seemed in higher spirits, despite the situation they found themselves in. He did not sulk, as he had before, but carried himself with a little more dignity.
When the day had finished its course, Raymond, along with his sister crossed the yard to the neighbor’s house to sleep the night and begin anew the next morning. Raymond lent Belinda his notes from the interviews he conducted which were as follows:
Dougal—strange appearance, strange introduction, likeable disposition, seemed genuine, used logic, no known motive, told me to interview Candace as she is suspected of husband’s murder, would not tell me how he was supplied of this information, must press him further
Preston—cool-headed, devout, honest, possible motive: takes position at church vacated by victim
Lennon—talkative, extremely likeable, energetic, perhaps nervous, no known motive
Abner—slight nervousness, shy, unlikeable, no known motive
Candace—strong-tempered, overly angry at suggestion of being a suspect, possible motive: destroys only heir to the Sanderson property and wealth in an attempt to procure it herself, may have murdered before?
Upon reading this, she handed it back to him and said, “I believe you may be on to something with Preston. Dougal seems peculiar. He gives me the chills. Abner too, but in a different way. In any case, Lennon seems like a fine man. I’m glad you took such a liking to him as well. I would hate if we ever disagreed.”
“Go to bed, sister, and sleep if you can. I will find your dear Ryker’s enemy, I promise. I will go now to my chamber, study my notes, and think. I have learned that there is an answer to every riddle if one uses enough hours to think the problem through from beginning to end and from every angle.”
To this, she obeyed and Raymond sat with his arms folded under him at a desk in his chamber, the only place he found suitable to serve his throbbing mind. His morose contemplations led him nowhere, as he played possible scenarios in his mind. No evidence or proof jumped out at him. His brain worked in circles until he resolved at last, that if he not be active, he would drop into a slumber.
Deciding to search for evidence at the Kingsley house, he pulled on his coat and hat and taking with him a lantern, walked across the yard. He scanned the walls for small windows that he might find ajar, but resorted to an attempt at the front door, which he found unbolted. “Stupid! Why would they not bolt the door?” he muttered.
Raymond’s first order of business was to make sure everyone was safe and in bed. He had no intention of allowing anyone else to chance upon encountering a dead body. He felt himself the most disconnected from anyone in the house, indeed, he felt himself superior and the ultimate protector of the peace. He trusted in himself and his abilities to find out the culprit and felt no force of this world or any other could hinder him. His belief in justice and the rational left no room for any fear, for he was strong and had bested many men in a number of brawls.
He crept throughout the house, opening each door a crack and lifting his lantern so that a stream of light was just strong enough to illuminate the steady rising and falling of a chest. He spied Candace and Lennon as such, but upon opening slightly the next door which led to Lennon’s chamber, he found the blanket had been cast aside and no body at all lay upon the bed. Raymond swung open the door fully and burst into the room, but nothing stirred. He searched all around, but found nothing out of any usual order. The window was shut, signifying this provided no exit. Keeping calm, but energized by this new predicament, Raymond quickly peeped into the chambers of Abner and Dougal to make sure they were confined to their beds, looked inside every other additional guestroom, and crept downstairs in silent fervor. He opened door after door, making a swift but soundless search of the entire mansion. He did not know what to expect, but felt he must be speedy lest some harm might befall Lennon. “Any why Lennon! He was the most able to be tolerated! Why not Abner?” This he whispered in fury as he swung open the last door. Inside was nothing. He recalled the unbolted door. “But who? All were asleep in their chambers!”
He also remembered smaller, wooden doors in the kitchen and returned there. Most led to storage rooms and an ice room, besides one. This door exposed a small, steep, stone staircase that descended into complete darkness, though in the distance a faint glow sent a shudder through Raymond’s body which was only prolonged by the flow of cold air that spun through the vertical tunnel and around him. He was determined and did not remain long, but descended carefully, one step at a time. He concealed his lantern with his hat and felt his way down to the bottom, the faint glow increasing in intensity the lower he went. Five steps to the bottom, the glow at the bottom disappeared completely, leaving him in total darkness. He moved on and counting each step in his head, reached the bottom safely. He walked forward, but froze. Heavy breathing filled the damp air and Raymond’s heart palpitations increased. In the darkness, the unknown was terrible. The breathing continued, and the source seemed only an arm’s reach ahead of him. He knew not whether to remove his hat or to keep it there. He wanted to know, and yet he did not want to know. Seconds increased in length as he stood suspended, listening to the breath heave and murmur.
At last he had stood still long enough, and in a moment of bravery, removed his hat from the lantern which exposed two bodies, red and fully alive, both scarce of clothing. The two screamed, terrified themselves of this revelation, and Raymond turned around for purity’s sake. “Not mine own sister! How could you? Clothe yourselves!” Behind him, they obeyed. “And Lennon, how could you defile my dear sister? You have not the right to touch my sister!”
“Oh Raymond,” Belinda breathed. “It is not as if he forced himself upon me!”
“Speak to me not in his presence, you unclean woman! You will accompany me straightaway back to the Sanderson residence where you belong! And you Lennon, to your chamber and out of my sight! Be glad I resist breaking your neck! But you have not heard the last from me, go now!”
When they were clothed, they climbed back up to the comforting air of the first floor, no word spoken among them, and Lennon left them to ascend to the second floor. Raymond noted that Lennon’s face showed simplistic signs of remorse and shame, as if he were only embarrassed for being caught and if ensured secrecy would commit the deed again, willingly and gladly. The brother and sister passed through the door, leaving it unbolted. “Now I know why this door was unlocked.” When they were back in the warmth of the Sanderson mansion, Raymond sat her down in the kitchen, in a worn chair, as if she was a criminal on trial.
“Sister, for the sake of your soul, I hope, I beg that you feel the weight of what you have done and seek purity and atonement,” he began, keeping his blazing eyes set on hers. The entire time she did not glance away, but kept them, in strength, fixed on his. “Your case is not even a mere deviance into sin. The act in itself, is hideous, for he is not your husband, but the time in which you have done it! Your fiancé has just died today! Were your tears a pretense? Did you hate him so much that you wished to defile even his dead body? I don’t understand it!”
“Brother, you knew Ryker. I ask you, how could I love him over Lennon? You’ve never liked Ryker, but Lennon you revealed in your very notes, was a man of great likability. You have answered your own questions!”
“I have not! Curse you woman, for trying to unguilt yourself! I admit that Ryker was weak and unmanly in many respects and hardly likable, but under God, you had a covenant to him. As a woman and as a christian you had your duty, and to stray from that was immoral. It is not your place to make decisions for yourself. You knew what was right and proper and you deviated. I can hardly call you sister. Go to bed. You realize this only makes my investigation more complex, for not only does Lennon now have a motive, but so also do you!”
Belinda stood up and he glared at her as she walked away. She did not weaken enough to cast her eyes down or away, but held his gaze in her own until passing through the door. Raymond, stimulated by anger and an increased desire to understand the incidents surrounding the murder, knew he could never sleep at such a time and so exited the house yet again to seek evidence from the Kingsley mansion.
When he had opened the door, stepped inside, and turned around to close it softly, he caught in his peripheral vision a figure dash towards him from the right. By instinct, he turned, dropping his lantern which dispelled most light excluding the moonlight through the open door, and in defense, caught in his hands an arm holding a knife, not unlike the one found to have killed Ryker. Countering the force brought against him, Raymond shoved the figure against the wall of the hallway. The figure dropped his knife with a clatter on the wooden floor and Raymond, seeing his opportunity, reached for his own knife attached to his belt. Bouncing back from the wall, the figure shoved Raymond with great power, toppling him out the door and onto the lawn. Springing to his feet to counter, knife drawn, the figure slammed the door in his face and bolted it. In a rage, Raymond circled the house several times in search of another place of entry or an open window he might climb through, but found none. He clenched his teeth and threw his knife against the stone wall, before, panting, he returned to the other house with a grave sense of defeat.
He retired to his chamber, and sat at his desk, mulling over the battle, contemplating the ways he conjectured he could have turned out the victor and made himself a hero. When the adrenaline had subsided, he returned to ponder over the case of the murder. He made these amendments to his notes:
Dougal—not strong enough to best me in a fight because old
Lennon—naturally unremorseful, possible motive: in love with victim’s fiancé
Candace—not strong enough to best me in a fight because old and a woman
Belinda—naturally unremorseful, possible motive: ridding herself of her fiancé because in love with another man, if guilty she did not act alone because she was not in the house where I was attacked
After these additions had been made, Raymond observed through his window that outside was getting lighter and he resolved to take a walk, in order to escape the heavy air of the house and the weight of his self-bestowed duty to set right the murderous transgressions of the blameworthy party. He walked across the stretching lawn towards the sunrise which threw stabbing streams of red and pink light through the blue-white sky. He viewed this expanse of colour, as he walked across the lawn and away from the houses, as a solace delivered from God specifically for him. He thought of God’s mighty justice and prayed that those responsible for the gruesome crime would be properly punished, if not by his own hand, by someone of great spiritual reverence or by the natural hand of God Himself.
His thoughts were interrupted by the thud thud thud that had interrupted Candace’s sleep. Turning around to the two houses, so alike in structure and vastness, he recollected himself to his mission at hand and returned to his labour. He moved towards the noise with deliberation and came upon Dougal up to his task of casting rocks in the exact place he had the previous night. Raymond observed that he looked different, as if in a stupor like a sleepwalker. He decided not to disrupt the old man, but to enter through the now unbolted door and confront the two sons with the most known reason to kill Ryker. With the door shut, tap tap tap, became the cycle.
The knife and lantern were missing from the floor in the hall and so he walked into the kitchen where the servants were preparing breakfast and he asked one of them to gather Preston and Lennon in one of the adjacent sitting rooms. He made his way to the room himself and smoothed his hair and clothes at a mirror, making sure he retained his professionalism. A wave of fatigue slammed his body in a moment and he jumped up and down some times to wake himself up. Letting loose a few yawns, he sat down on a couch and within a few moments Preston and Lennon entered together and took seats on two easy chairs on either side of Raymond’s couch.
“I have called upon you,” Raymond began, “for the simple reason that you two are my biggest suspects at the moment and I want to hear more from you.” He secretly hoped that one or the other would make some slip of the tongue, revealing himself to be the one who attacked Raymond in the middle of the night, present some clue, or at the very least provide ample time for Raymond to take into account which appeared the wearier.
“This is preposterous!” Preston argued with a brand of particular irritation. “We have lived in this house peacefully for years with our neighbours beside us. We have often enjoyed each other’s company. It was only when Dougal presented himself that trouble began to stir. Is that not confirmation itself that Dougal is the one to blame? He is obviously in no clear state of mind as evidenced by the strange way in which our dear mother found him. In fact, do I hear it now? Is he at it again? Yes, it is distinct. He continues to exist in a crazed state!”
“And yet he seems so calm and of a regular disposition while inside the house,” Lennon offered.
Preston glowered at him from across the room. “And so you think not that it was Dougal? Who do you suppose the culprit is then? Myself?”
“Brother, I would never disrespect you, but the fact is that you do replace Ryker’s position at the church. You are always the one who leaves the dinner table early to study over all those old religious texts and you are the one who is first to leave the house in the mornings and the last to return in order to put more time into your work at the church, as you have said, to increase your ability to someday take over full authority there.”
“Ah, so I am guilty of being motivated and hard-working now, am I, brother? You could do well to learn from me, you lazy sluggard. But you could never give up your nights at the tavern in town, could you? And I will not be forgetting that Sir Raymond here has mentioned that you too have a motive for Ryker’s murder? Well, let’s have it then!”
Lennon directed a pleading look at Raymond, but Raymond felt no lament and answered, “I caught him last night with my sister, in fleshly activity absent of purity.”
“Ah ha!” Preston smiled with horrid glee. “So it is you who has more reason to have committed the crime, for love of a woman is perhaps the strongest incentive known to mankind. And to add with it the offense of carnal crime against God! Your sins will find you out, I have warned you of this. You need to turn to God, for you have much to seek reparations for. You may come under my care at the church and I will teach you how to be repentant, believe me, by the time I am done with you!”
By now, the brothers were standing, red-faced and Raymond stood as well, in case he had to come between them. The tap tap tap continued, adding a rhythm to their accusations. At this point in the discourse, a scream, a blood-cry hurtled downstairs and the two brothers stopped their babbling at once. Without a word to one another, the three dashed out of the room and up the stairwell to the source of the shriek: Candace’s chamber. Raymond was first and flung open the door. The three poured in and in front of them, propped against the base of the bed was Candace dripping blood from a large, gaping wound to her left breast. She looked on her two sons with horror, before breathing her last.
“Come quick!” Raymond said. “For the guilty party must be near!” the three rushed out into the hallway to be met with shrill sobs from a chamber down the hallway. They ran inside and propped up against his own bed was Abner, whimpering, holding a bloody knife in his hand.
“So it is you!” Lennon cried out.
“I should have known,” Preston spat. “The outsider! But why? What was your motivation?”
“Please listen,” Abner cried, dropping his knife and clinging to the bedpost. He could not look at any of the men, but looked to the floor or the wall as he spoke. “All I sought was his love! That was all! That was all! Believe me, that is why I have done these things. For love! He came back. He, that man, he told me that to love him I had to do these things! He told me I would have it only after the crimes were committed. And now they are done, and now I am loved!”
“What man? Who?” Raymond shouted.
Tap tap tap.
Abner shrunk down to the floor and beat his hands on the wooden floor. “The man Dougal! He is no man at all! He is the ghost, the ghost of our father!”
“Stupid outsider!” Preston yelled.
“Dare not to call him our father again! He was never your father!” Lennon shouted.
“He is now,” Abner whispered.
Raymond, being prone to think out the validity of words, asked, “And why would the ghost of Henry ask for these two people to be murdered?”
Tap tap tap.
“Our dear mother, so she could pay for her sin, in like-manner. Her sin being the poisoning of our dear father!”
Preston and Lennon shouted at once to stop referring to Henry in that manner, but Raymond shouted above them. “Why then Ryker?”
Abner raised himself on his hands and knees, he seemed in such torment, and turned to the three. “For them!” he spat. “For his dear Preston and his dear Lennon! He knew what you most prized and since he held you so close to his heart, so much closer than I ever was until now, he ordered me to kill our neighbor Ryker, and I consented. I did this for you, by extension of doing it for our father’s sake. To love you because he loved you.”
Tap tap tap.
The three heard it this time and with scarcely a glance among them filed out of the room as quick as they could go, down the staircase, and burst out into the open air. Rounding the house, they saw no one, just the pile of rocks sitting in a pile at the base of the tree and at the base of the now cracked portion of the wall. Any yet to their shock continued the:
Thud thud thud.
Note scribbled by Raymond:
I had to get away from that place. It was so maddening, I myself did not want to go crazy. I left Belinda, I could not allow myself to linger any longer in that place, but sprinted down the hill at once and when in the town, directly made preparations to leave. I am currently in a carriage, carrying me south. My mind works in circles over the incidents at that house. I have never believed in ghosts, and yet I am still unsure. I had reasoned that Dougal was a sleep-walker and suffered a loss of mind due to his old-age. I had reasoned that Abner was crazy, sparked by the awful reminder of his father by the likeness of Dougal. And yet the sound … could there be an explanation? Or could it be that I am crazy? I flee to a friend, a doctor. I need someone to think over the story, add up all the facts and make a conclusion one way or the other. I care not which way, I know not which would console me the more or of which is marked by more hope.