It’s Always Easier in the Dark
By Aristo Couvaras
- Executing the Estate
I’m drawing yours out. Don’t ask me why, could it be it’s all becoming rather fun?
You don’t believe the boy, you believe the doctor, that suits me. Eventually the sun will sink, it always does.
And when it does it grows so deliciously dark. It’s always easier in the dark…
Mrs. Atteridge, or should that be the former Mrs. Atteridge she now pondered, walked in through the large cherry doors and was greeted by Edgar.
“Ah, Ma’am you’ve returned earlier than expected. Would you care for some Earl Gray?” he offered the fine china tray up to her. Her eyes said thank you, conveyed her gratefulness, but her curt attitude and recent grief held the words fast behind her teeth.
“Yes, Edgar I would”, she said as she took a cup from the decorative tray, “things went, well things went rather well today at the executor’s office, as well as could reasonably be expected, I suppose.”
“Allow me to extend my sympathies again ma’am, to both you and the young master. What has befallen this family, well it’s a travesty.”
She waved a gloved hand in his direction as if chasing away a bothersome fly, “oh come now, it’s terribly sad for us, agreed. But it’s no travesty Edgar. People die all the time. Alistair and I are just lucky my late husband had his affairs in order. We shan’t starve or lose the roof over our head, and you shan’t lose your employ, will you?”
“Well if you would be so charitable as to keep me on Ma’am. Shall I fetch you the day’s paper, it seems the late Mr. Atteridge was not the only victim on that night.”
Mrs. Atteridge had no time or interest in other victims of madmen and a society with a decaying moral compass – besides, her liaison with the executor had told here more than she cared to know about the other victims, “No, no, that’s quite alright Edgar. We’ve dwelled enough on death in this household I don’t believe it would be healthy for Alistair to hear more about it. Where is the boy? Has the doctor been in to see him today?”
“Indeed, he has ma’am. He came to us at noon and saw to the young master.”
“And what did he say?” the widow demanded.
“That the night terrors are not abnormal ma’am. On the contrary, they’re to be expected given the unfortunate circumstances. He explained to me that given there is no face on which to pin the trauma, no accused as of yet, that it is the natural progression the lad might fantasize and invent monsters of his own accord. He seemed to have a way with the boy, if I may say so, in fact, the young master confided in me that he might even take to sleeping in his own bed again come the evening.”
She told the butler to fetch her son for her. She didn’t tell him that she would dread sleeping on her own. Not that having the bed to herself was an altogether unique experience for her, her husband had often worked exceedingly late nights. But since his passing, well, since his passing Alistair wasn’t the only one whom felt as if he shared his bedroom with…well with something else.
“Mother you’ve returned” cheered Alistair, bounding down the stairs like he wasn’t supposed to. Mrs. Atteriedge didn’t have the strength to chide him that day, and drew her son in to her arms. She instructed Edgar to begin preparing their dinner and then brushed her son’s hair from his eyes.
While the boy told her about his day and the visit from the doctor she did her best not to tear up. Behind her tired eyes, where she held fast to those tears, were the thoughts she had been plagued with since her meeting with the executor.
How was she to tell the boy, even in the distant future, though a mother knows that all futures are only but around the corner, that his father had bequeathed unto him a lovely town house near the courts. A house she had never known he’d purchased. A house in which two women had been found so brutally butchered on the same night the boy’s father had been. So much for the nearby inn or the charitable bed of neighboring friends during the nights he worked late, she thought. He had been the one charitable with his bed.
If Alistair had trouble sleeping in their house where nothing of the sort had happened, how would he take to one day owning a house in which something very horrid had. Never mind the implications of why the two women in question where there in the first place, Mrs. Atteridge knew the reason, but she didn’t know if she’d ever know how to tell Alistair.
More so, her initial reaction to the news was to tell the executor to have the house immediately auctioned. If it were left in her name she may have burnt it to the ground herself and be damned with even calling upon any recompense from insurers. But, she had thought, and still did, when Alistair came of age and was told everything, would he forgive her for selling such an item as his father left unto him?
Perhaps when he was a man himself he’d want the blasted house sold in any case. Yet, that would have to be his decision to make. Hers was only whether and when to tell him.
You needn’t worry about telling the boy. Why I’ll arrange it so he can take it up with his father and his whores this very night! Just as soon as the moon hangs high and you snuff out your candles, all alone in your beds.
I’ll take you to them in the dark! It’s always easier in the dark…
Edgar’s quarters were affixed to the kitchen, an expansion added to the sprawling abode so that were Alistair ever to need anything in the lost hours between today and tomorrow, he would be able to raise himself from slumber and attend to the boy. His quarters were in fact designed to be nearest the kitchen, where much of his duties were seen to, but also below the young master’s own chamber’s.
In his bed, during the still of the evening, a sound from above brought Edgar immediately awake. Something crawled along the wood of the ceiling, across the floor of Alistair’s room. It was akin to an unskilled chef sliding his knife along a cutting board, dragging it rather. Then, whatever the cause of the disturbance was, it began tapping. Prodding a point as if hammering a nail.
More night terrors Edgar thought. Best to go check on the boy lest he disturb his mother. He knew that the lady needed some proper rest herself. Edgar fumbled besides his bedside for a candle and matches. There was a slight hiss and a flame puckered the night air before being set to the wick. The prodding paused, as if disturbed by the actions below as Edgar was disturbed by those above.
When Edgar reached the summit of the spiraling stairwell, candle held high, he pressed his ear to the boy’s door. The young master was mumbling and moaning in his sleep, his breath haggard. And yet, Edgar heard the child speak to him from the bottom of the very steps he had just climbed.
“There’s no need to check on me Edgar. I’m quite alright. Night terrors is all they are, they’re not real. You heard the doctor say so yourself.”
The butler felt as if he had suddenly swallowed a handful of frozen cubes, and they were lodged in his throat. His hackles rose and he knew he had to turn to confront the source of the stolen voice below. However, for fear of seeing something staring up at him, he froze. His jittery hand made the sign of the cross and he did so again when he slowly turned around. Looking over the balustrades he saw a section of the dark move behind a corner.
The voice that sounded like the boy’s but wasn’t really spoke again, in a whisper, “why don’t you put the candle out Edgar. It’s so terribly difficult for me to fall asleep with its constant flickering.”
Edgar didn’t wish to speak with the entity but took one step down and held the candle even higher. The voice that next lathered the looming shadows was not Alistair’s by any stretch, “Listen butler. My business is not with you. Though it may serve you to share their fate, them both found dead and you alive, why the finger will have to be pointed at you.” The voice giggled, as if it took great pleasure in the portrayed scenario.
Edgar took another step down. Then another, carefully measured. Then a third. Some animal growled at him menacingly from below. The butler reached a candelabrum affixed to the wall and began lighting the candles settled there. The growling grew. It behooved the butler not to imagine what teeth were bared that hid from the light, what cursed lips drew back in response to his actions, what wicked tongue spoke the language of such malevolence.
There was the sound of a blade grinding against the wall before the voice next spoke, “Will you stand guard all night then? And then the next? And the one after that? I was sooo close to the boy and then you come with that blasted waxen weapon of yours. I remind you butler, your death is not in my sights, but that can be adjusted, or, you can blow those flames out, pack your belongings and be far from here before the sun ever rises. You are little more to them and your former employer than paid help.”
Edgar took the chance to speak, “and then what will happen to the madam and the boy?”
“The same thing that will happen if you stay. Those candles will wane, or perhaps a night will come where your sleep is so deep you don’t awaken until after you hear their death cries.” Whatever blade the intruder held furrowed into the wall it hid behind.
Edgar made his way down the curve of the flight and lit the next wall fixture. He stood there until his legs tired, and there he sat. Whenever he thought sleep might grip him, he held the flame near his palm or enjoyed the pain of hot dripping wax, it was a safe pain.
After perhaps an hour of silence, the shadow below hissed with disdain and then spat, “very well.”
Edgar sat, waiting, watching, a reluctant sentry. No door opened or closed to tell him the stabbing speaker was gone, but the rising bumps on his flesh eventually smoothed, and the sweat on his brow grew cold instead of the hot sticky residue it had been. Whatever it was, he believed it had gone, somehow.
The butler rose and made his way cautiously back up the stairs to check on the boy. When he put his hand on the door knob, he cast his stare down the long hallway that lead to the master bedroom. The dwindling flame he held caressed so little of the purveying gloom with its light, and the door to the master bedroom was now an ebon maw.
Err on the side of caution butler. I have one hand in particular you would dearly not like to force. See to the boy then, take your flickering ward to him. Best grab him and make your way to his mother before I do. There are other places the shadows stretch and open doors you cannot see.
Doors that open in the dark. It’s always easier in the dark.
Mrs. Atteridge turned in her sleep, tossing about from her own nightmares. In them she saw Edgar protecting Alistair from some demonic vagabond. In a dark encompassing cloak, the stranger with ill-intent had a long blade protruding from one of his sleeves.
A cloud passed over the moon and drew a dark curtain over what silver rays filtered through the large windows in the lonely master bedroom. Mrs. Atterdige heard her husband whisper to her from underneath the bed, “My sweet. I know I don’t deserve it, but let me beg your forgiveness. Those other two women, I meant to tell you, I did.”
“Oh Clyde”, she mumbled and turned over in her sleep, one ear pressed against the downy mattress so that she could better hear the wanted apology emanating from under the bed. Her dead husband spoke, “perhaps words will never do me justice, so allow me one final kiss? Would you?” Even from beneath the bed her husband’s breath reeked, vapors of some distilled spirit wafted up through the mattress and the linen; it was strong liquor, not malt or barley…something like formaldehyde?
She murmured some response her heart formed that had no words. When a coarse tongue of hair licked the side of her face and flirted with her ear, she came to from her nightmare into one unimaginably worse.
Even in the dark she could make out some semblance of the unholy features that tongue dangled from. A long blade entered her side, piercing flesh and perforating organs. She cried with unexpected pain as the blade sunk in again and again and again. She heard footsteps charging down the corridor towards her bedroom door.
When Edgar opened the door, the candle he held cast its light dimly about the room. The creature atop of her withdrew immediately from the glow but in that instant, she caught a more revealing glimpse of the thing and she was glad to die.
In her sheets, now drenched in a pool of pouring blood, she managed to give her final order to the butler, “ALISTAIR!”
But a terrible voice that was not her husband or anyone’s husband, already said with a giggling seditious glee from outside the boy’s door at the start of the hallway, “too late. He’s coming with me.”