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Silas took Hannah by the hand and together they found a way out of the barrows. They climbed back up the mountain and picked up the path they lost at the gorge. The night grew darker, the moon giving up and finally disappearing from the sky. Their flashlights only gave enough to see their next few steps. When they reached an open clearing flooded with starlight, it was like a sudden splash of cold water.
Trees ringed the grassless patch of earth. They groveled before the old house like minions. It was a grotesque structure, grown only worse with age. The black facade sucked up the light. Silas assumed it had been three stories tall, before considerable sagging. There was no glass in the windows and all the shingles had blown away. The detective let out a whistle as he took a step towards it.
“I already hate it.”
Hannah was silent as she looked over Crow’s Peak.
“This is it,” she said. “This is the house from my dream.” She cast her light over the upper levels. “There’s a balcony–used to be–where I saw him.”
Silas looked at the place where she was shining her light. “Probably blew away. Place has seen better days.”
Silas put a foot on the porch. The wood groaned like an ornery cat. Jumping the rest of the way, he landed in front of the door. Hannah decided to try the steps. Her foot broke through the first one. She pulled it free through a string of curses and clambered up the rest.
The front door wouldn’t open. Silas leaned against it. That didn’t help. He took a step back, about to throw himself into it, but thought better of it.
“Care to lend a hand?” he asked Hannah.
Reluctantly, the journalist took her place beside Silas at the door.
“How much of this job is hard labor?” she asked.
“I’d say about thirty percent,” Silas said.
“I think your numbers are off,” she said.
“They usually are.”
Eventually, they managed to force the door open. It fell off its hinges crashing into the foyer. The sound echoed through the house.
The entryway floor was once marble. Now, it was dust. A chandelier sprawled out across their path like a dead spider. The first-floor rooms could be seen through gaps in the walls. There was a sitting room, dining room, parlor, study, and kitchen. All decrepit and empty. Anything resembling furniture had turned to pulp.
“Not that bad,” Silas said. “I mean, look at all the rooms.”
“I’d pass,” Hannah said.
“Not until we see the upstairs, dear.” Silas went to the staircase at the end of the foyer.
“Those steps don’t look safe,” Hannah said.
“Oh, they’re fine.”
“And what do I do when you fall to your death?” she asked.
“I want a poem read at my funereal,” Silas said. “Something from Ulysses.”
Silas clambered up the stairs. To both of their delight, they were intact. Hannah eventually followed him. The walls on the second floor hadn’t rotted, requiring them to search room to room. Aside from a few somber chairs and the odd scrap of clothing, they were empty.
“I remember my first haunted house,” Silas said as they worked their way down the hall.
“This place isn’t haunted, is it?”
“It was in East Rutherford,” he said. “Ghost of a farmer. Sour old prick. Not much of a Giants fan.”
“What are we even looking for?” Hannah asked.
“Anything that can tell us more about the kidnapper,” he said. “If he is the man from your dream.”
“You don’t believe me?” she said.
“I believe you,” Silas said, nodding. “But we need clues, intel. Something that can lead us to him.”
“Think we’ll find his master plan just lying in a drawer?” she said.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?”
At the end of the hall was the master bedroom. Or what was left of it. A few flourishes were still visible in the architecture. There was still a bed. Its canopy was drooping with a heavy load of dust. A gray, rotted lump must have been a mattress. There was nothing else in the room aside from a wardrobe. Hannah checked it out. Silas stayed by the door.
“Would you look at this?” he said.
Behind the door hung a painting. The image was faded, but he could still make out the portrait of a man in a robe. He stood erect, his hands on his hips. The face was indistinguishable. Behind him, the artist painted a dreary landscape. Silas assumed it was supposed to be the old town and the surrounding valley.
“What a shame,” he said, “nobody ever claimed the painting.”
Hannah walked over. “I can see why.”
“I’m sure it was nicer when it was new,” Silas said. “Oil paintings need to be taken care of. What does that look like to you?”
“A mess. It looks like a mess.”
“No, the frame.” Silas rubbed his hand across a nameplate at the bottom. The words were eroded, like everything else.
“Is it ‘Bert Drogan’? Druper? Dragon?”
“Dragon?” Hannah said. “What kind of name is Dragon?”
“I dunno,” Silas said. “What kind of name is Bert?”
After discouraging Silas from exploring what little was left of the third floor, Hannah returned with him to the ground level. They did a cursory check of the floor. Silas was inextricably drawn to the study. It was the smallest of the first-floor rooms. Bookshelves lined the walls, flanking a fireplace in the rear wall. To Silas’s surprise, a few books survived. He pulled them out, one at a time.
“Crap. Garbage. Unreadable. This one’s been cut to hide a flask.” He held up the container to Hannah.
“Anything good inside?” she asked.
He unscrewed the cap. “Only fumes,” he said, tossing it to her.
Finishing off the last shelf he walked over to the fireplace. “Well, nuts.”
“Did you really want to read those books?”
“Of course, not,” he said. “I was hoping one of them would trigger a secret door. This room looks three feet shorter than it should be.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
Silas held out his hands. “I eyeballed it.”
“Okay, so if a book’s not the trigger, what is?”
They both looked at the fireplace at the same time.
“Start pushing bricks, baby,” Silas said.
Standing on either side of the mantle, they checked the brickwork. Silas crouched down and stuck his head into the hearth. His voice echoed back to Hannah.
“It’s always gotta be difficult.”
There was a dull click, followed by a grinding sound. Hannah helped Silas out as the fireplace–chimney and all–rolled out from the wall. Behind it was a room only big enough for a table, stool, and wall shelf. On the table sat a tome and dagger. Silas looked them over.
“La Poule Noire,” he said. “I think Napoleon used this grimoire. A lot of nonsense.” He carefully removed the knife from its sheath. “Replica.” He let it clatter on the table as he checked the shelf.
“Hello, what is this?”
A single, leather-bound book remained. Sealed away in that secret room, it was relatively intact and dust-free. Silas picked it up. He stuck his flashlight in his teeth to free his hands as he searched it. Hannah stepped over and offered her light.
“What is it?”
Silas dropped the light from his mouth. “If I had to guess, a diary.”
“Whose?” she asked.
He checked the cover page. “There’s a date. 1928. And a name. Alexander Daragon.”
“Daragon,” Hannah said. The name sent shivers across her arms and legs. “You think that’s him?”
Silas’s head slowly rose and fell. “Sounds better than Bert Drugan. He wrote some really weird stuff.”
“Can’t make out most of it,” he said. “He used some kind of shorthand. Never seen it before.”
“Maybe I can help.” Hannah reached over to take the book from his hands.
The detective shrugged her away, bumping into the wall. “Your skin has destructive oils that’ll damage the book.”
“And yours don’t?”
Silas didn’t have an answer for that. “Just give me some light.”
“Fine.” She waved her hands in an irritated gesture, casting the light all over the room. He moved her hand so it was pointed at the book.
“This is a map of the town.” He turned the page. “And this is a spell circle.”
Hannah squeezed behind him to see a hand-drawn circle with a star in the middle. Scribbles, what could barely be considered writing, filled the blank space around it.
“What spell is it for?” Hannah asked.
“Don’t know,” he said. “Could be for anything. Though, the doodles of skulls give a hint.”
“What else did he draw?” she said.
Silas flipped through the book some more. “What does that look like?” He turned the diary so Hannah saw the angel with featherless wings and a skull for a face. Below it men were bowed in worship.
“You know it,” Silas said. “This guy wasn’t a half-bad artist. For a psychopath.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
Silas turned awkwardly in the tiny room to look at her. “What don’t you understand?”
“This Daragon lived when, 1928? He’s gotta be dead by now. He can’t be behind the kidnappings.”
“That’s never been a problem, from my experience,” he said.
“Then where is he, if he’s not here?” she asked. “What’s he been up to for the last ninety years? Why has he shown up now, kidnapping women?”
“All good questions,” Silas said. “We’re getting closer. And we can learn even more, now that we have his name.”
“At least we got something out of this trip and we can leave,” Hannah said.
“Not yet, I wanna check the basement,” he said.
“I didn’t see a basement.”
“It’ll be outside. A cellar door.”
“Why do you want to see it?” she asked.
Silas looked at her, his eyes gleaming. “There’s always something in the basement.”
“How about I just wait outside?” she said. “I’m sure you’ll be fine on your own.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Silas said. “Splitting up’s the last thing we should do. Don’t you watch horror movies?”
Beside the back porch was the cellar entrance. The doors creaked stubbornly as they pried them open. A smell of mold and soil wafted up into the air. Silas and Hannah shone their flashlights inside. Nothing jumped out at them. They took it as a good sign. Silas climbed in first. After a few minutes, his voice floated up to Hannah.
“Well this is disappointing,” he said.
It was empty. Depressions in the ground were the only clues that something used to be there. Hannah climbed down and stood beside Silas, feeling very relieved.
“Okay, let’s go.”
The detective sighed as he cast his light around the room. Something flashed back at him.
“You saw that right?” he asked.
“Uh,” Hannah said. “Yeah.”
Hanging on the wall opposite them was a mirror. It was almost completely covered in dirt and blended in perfectly with the wall. Only a sliver of glass had survived to reflect his light back at them. Silas approached it and ran a finger over the frame. Sticking his flashlight in his mouth, he felt around it. It wouldn’t come off the wall.
“Why would you hang a mirror in a basement?” he asked.
Before Hannah could answer, a light filled the room. A woman was standing next to him. She was emaciated, translucent, her hair a tangle of weeds around her shoulders. A tattered gown was all that made up her form. At first, she didn’t notice the others. She looked into the mirror as if she could see her reflection. Slowly she turned and faced Silas and Hannah.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice resonated through the cellar.
“We are searching,” Silas said. “For the truth.”
“Truth does not abide here,” the ghost said.
“Truth is all around us,” he said. “You just need to know where to look.”
She leveled her eyes at the detective.
“Tell me your name,” he said.
“Laura. Laura Daragon.”
“You lived here Laura,” Silas said.
“A long time ago,” she said. “I was brought here by my family. In exchange for a home in this country, I was made a wife. He was cruel to me.”
“Who was he?” he asked.
“He owned the town,” Laura said. “Owned the people. But they wanted to be free. So, he punished them. I tried to warn them, but he stopped me. I couldn’t save the people. My own family.”
“Is that why you’re still here?” Silas said. “You’re punishing yourself for their deaths?”
“He keeps me here,” Laura said. “I am his trophy, even now.”
“Where is your husband?” he asked. “Where is Daragon?”
The ghost refused to speak.
“We can help you, Laura,” Silas said. “If you help us find him, you can be free.”
“I can never be free.”
“Laura,” Hannah said. “I’ve seen you before.”
The dead woman focused on her.
“I saw you in a dream. You were running down the mountain to warn the town. It wasn’t your fault they died. But there’s still a chance to make it right. You can find peace.”
“Peace?” For a moment the ghost’s cold exterior softened. There was a touch of warmth in her eyes. Silas and Hannah got a glimpse of the young woman she once was. It flickered and went out.
“There is no peace.”
Laura screamed. The noise pressed at them from all sides. Silas doubled over as if he had been hit. Hannah tried to run back up the stairs but was frozen. Laura’s dead, spindly fingers reached out for her. Tendrils of ice crept up Hannah’s legs and arms. A look of pleasure was on the ghost’s face.
“I feel the warmth of life again.”
Brilliant light filled the cellar. Silas was on his feet, a soul stone in his hand. The ghost spasmed as it was pulled away from Hannah. The cold left her body. Laura roared at Silas. The stone burst and he was knocked into the wall. He held his throat as an invisible vice squeezed his neck.
Hannah watched helplessly as the detective squirmed. He will be dead soon, a voice said in her mind. Shaking her head, she reached into her shirt. She pulled out Luther’s talisman. Focusing all her fear, anger, and pain at Laura, she pointed it at the ghost. The cross grew hot.
The ghost release Silas and turned. She flew at Hannah but was pushed back. Screaming, Laura extended her long, probing fingers. Hannah felt the heat of the talisman fight back against the dead woman’s rage. With one last roar, Laura clamped her hands onto the talisman.
The basement erupted. A wave of heat exploded from the talisman and engulfed Laura. She disappeared, her voice still echoing through the room. The air was knocked out of Hannah’s lungs. Her head swam and the ground rushed up to greet her. The cross, now charred black, fell across her chest as the world went dark.