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A Haunting in Setauket

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In her room she prays. Upon her knees on the floor, her head bowed and hands grasped around her black leather bound Bible, Anna prays. They come to her in a fevered rush, the words flowing seamlessly from her lips, her tongue never faltering, for the prayer must not stop.

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.

How many times the prayer has been repeated, she does not know. Fifty, five hundred, five thousand. She may have been here an hour or the entire day. Her knees and back ache and cry out in agony. Her mind fighting to concentrate on the words, ignoring everything else, all fear, all pain, for the prayer cannot stop.

Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

The sound is close now. She can hear them crawling towards her, clicks of their exoskeletal bodies scattering across the wooden floor, on the plaster of walls, the tin of the ceiling. The buzz of their wings vibrate in her ears. So close now she can feel the pull of them on the hem of her dress, crawling up her shoes. The swarm, of that which haunts her. A creature that never rests, never ceases. Anna keeps her eyes tightly shut, pressing the Bible firmly to her forehead, faster now, she keeps the prayer falling from her trembling lips, for it cannot stop.

Forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

She can feel them on her skin crawling under her dress, up her legs, up her dress sleeves. They crawl over and spill from her Bible. They speak a ruinous rumble of a terrible voice that echoes from nowhere. They creep upon her flesh as she falls to the floor, curling her body like a fetus, her arms over her face, trying to shield her mouth that ceaselessly prays.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Her voice becoming a desperate cry as she keeps saying the prayer, until the swarm overtakes her. Forcing their way into her ears, her nose and finally her mouth, muting her scream.

And then the prayer stops.

Amen.

 

OOO

 

“I’m sorry,” Abe says trying to take her hand. She yanks it out of his grasp. “I must think of my family.”

Anna does not say anything.

She fixes her clothes and stands up. Abe fastens his breeches while he speaks of his selfish plots and designs. A dawning comes to her as she knows; she is nothing to him. A mistress at best, a whore at worst. He never loved her.

The sound of his voice begins to drone out, becomes lost in a sea of white noise. The sharp pain in her chest fades away to nothing. Her mind unable to hear his words. The only voice she hears is that of one inside. Aware she is in its grasp, but unable to free herself, Anna finds herself taken by a terror so strong she even tries to call out to herself, to stop herself from running through the crops toward the center of the cornfield. She wants to shout out and tell herself to run home, to just leave this field and forget everything. But still she runs, and so fast now she begins to lose her balance, and then stops directly in the middle of the field.

Abe chases right behind her, unsure what her game is, unamused. When they stop, he pants, “What the hell has gotten into you?”

She turns and looks at him. Every foolish thing she had done, every dishonor she suffered at his hand floods forth. Her anger and pain enclose around her heart and she feels she may die from the pain of it. The voice speaks to her,

He treats you like one would a whore.

He never loved you.

I answered your call, accept me and I will erase this earthly pain.

“Anna? Are you listening? Are you alright?”

Thunder cracks and booms above them and the sky opens forth. Rain pours upon them, soaking them both, soaking the earth.

And then Anna’s vision goes white.

She comes for him without a sound, closing the distance between them with one step. Her arms are colder and thinner than ever as she embraces him. Her hands disappear beneath his shirt. Fingernails tear into his back. Abe cries out in pain. He tries to pull himself free, but she smashes her face against his neck sinking her teeth into the soft flesh. With her fingers locked behind his back, she prevents him from pulling his arms free, and when she begins to squeeze him with her bony arms, the breath is forced from him, and then his ribs began to shift and groan. Overwhelmed by her unnatural strength, and a fear of suffocation, he stamps about in the mud, trying to shake her loose. But his desperate staggers only succeed in toppling them to the ground.

As they roll in the dirt and wet verdure, he kicks his legs about, and tries to call out, but his squashed and winded torso can produce no sound beside a rasping noise that vibrates in his throat. Blind with panic, he is sure he will pass out.

When her grip suddenly loosens around his chest and he is able to draw some air into his lungs. She breaks away. “Anna please!” he chokes out, staggering to his feet. Looking around he doesn’t see her anywhere. He stumbles through the rows of towering corn stalks, trying to find a way out, but every turn an endless dead end.

“Hello?” he cries out, hoping someone on the road will hear him and guide him out, but there is no answer. No sound.

A shadow of movement and rustle of leaves just behind him, but when he turns, there is nothing. He calls out Anna’s name but there is no reply.

The rain begins to fall harder as Abe limps through the rows. The pattering sound of water against the leaves drowns out all others. Suddenly something hard thumps his back and knocks him down so quickly his hands never have a chance to break his fall. Before his face hits the earth, his ankles are clutched and slapped together. In the next instant he is being dragged backward toward the center of the crops at an incredible speed. Whatever holds his ankles runs twice as fast as a man. His arms flail and his body skims over the stones and clods of earth and weeds, as if he is being dragged behind a horse.

Using all the might of his lungs, Abe screams for all his life.

 

OOO

 

Captain Simcoe is sleeping in a large upholstered chair in the parlor of Strong Manor, his large head hanging down, chin to his chest. The copper stubble of his hair shines with sweat and rain. His white shirt and breeches stained in blood and mud, his feet bare. On the floor in a pile is his red coat and stockings; filthy and wet. He had meant to wash and lie down but his exhaustion overtook him when he sat down for a moment planning at first to watch her and then only to rest his eyes.

In the depths of his unrestful sleep, she turns and smiles at him, her eyes so bright. He feels his heart flutter and soar as she places her hands upon his chest and looks up to him. He leans his head down and kisses her, the thrill of the brush of her tongue to his stirring him to draw her closer. He deepens their kiss, his hands moving over her, squeezing her breasts, unfastening her clothing. He opens his eyes. He’s lying on his back. Anna looking down upon him. Her fingers on his chest like spikes sink into his ribs and hold him there, impaled to the mattress. The pain excruciating.

She calmly smiles and tells him it’s okay. Everything is going to be okay. He can feel as she pierces through his very heart and he can only watch her face in horror as her gentle smile sings a macabre lullaby.

Dead loves are woven in his ghastly robe;
Bewildered wills and faiths grown old and rotten
And deeds undared his sceptre, sword, and globe,
Keep us, O Mary Maid,
What time the King Ghost goes arrayed.

Simcoe leaps out of his dream, out of his chair from the hot searing agony in his chest. Not fully awake, he looks under his shirt to check for any marks. As his bearings return to him, he realizes he can still hear the same tune from his dream. Anna softly singing to herself, still lying on the divan where he had left her in the early hours of that morning.

“Mrs. Strong, can you hear me?”

“Of course,” she says languidly, as she stretches out her arms and opens her eyes like a waking housecat still groggy from its slumber. Rested and content. There is something unsettling in her manner. A different air. A cold chill runs through his blood when she seductively smiles at him.

He sits next to her and takes her hand into his. “How are you feeling?”

“Captain Simcoe,” she says tenderly looking at his hand holding hers and then to his face. “You look quite the fright.”

“Mrs. Strong, last night you had some kind of fit.”

“Did I?” she asks looking around at her makeshift bed on the divan in her parlor, at the officer billeted in her home that is filthy and inappropriately dressed down.

“I found you in the cornfield, do you not remember?”

“The cornfield?” she says and then laughs, girlishly running her hands through her hair, combing it forward with her fingers. “Why Captain, whatever were we doing there?”

“I found you unconscious on the ground and carried you here. You’ve been asleep ever since.”

“You saved me then,” she smiles, completely unconcerned with what he has just told her. “Is there tea?”

“Um, it’s gone cold,” he mutters and turns to the tea tray he had set on the floor. With nervous hands he pours her a cup of cold tea he had made several hours before and sits back down alongside her.

“Thank you,” she says sweetly and takes the cup and sips on it. “You made this?”

“Yes.”

Looking at her nightgown she says, “I don’t recall putting this on. Who changed my clothes?”

“I did, ma’am. You were soaked to the bone.”

She looks at him in confusion for a moment. “You dressed me?”

He nods. “Yes.”

She thinks for a moment, furrowing her brows in contemplation. Then as if the answer came to her, she lets out an excited sigh. Her teeth are revealed in a mad grin. She cocks her head side to side and with her eyes wide, in a throaty childlike voice exclaims, “Just like when we were boys!”

“Mrs. Strong?”

“When mummy took to her bed and you would take me to the river between the tall reeds and wash me and then dress me. As if I were your own child. Do you remember brother?”

An unspeakable terror seizes him and he pulls his hand away and moves back from her. “Why are you speaking like this?”

She folds her knees beneath her body and sits back on her heels and bounces. “Poor mother had no love for us, is there anything more worthless than a woman who doesn’t care for her children?”

In barely a whisper he makes out the name of his brother who perished in childhood, “James?”

“Somewhat,” she smiles. Surveys the room. Sips on cold tea.

“That’s not possible.”

“Speaking of worthless women, the one I saw with you, both of you pawing at each other like animals in the stable. Where is she?”

Her eyes wide and sincere as she speaks of things she has no possible way of knowing. Things that occurred years ago, a world away.

“Where is she?” Tears begin to stream down her enraged face. “Was she worth it?”

The temperature of the room noticeably begins to drop. The damp swampy smell of water fills the air. A deep unintelligible murmur as deafening and as angry as the sea fills the room suddenly, from nowhere, from everywhere. Wood and metal rattle and creak. Dancing on their legs, furniture moves on its own, the intense vibration that is making his ears feel like they are going to burst, sends a hundred pound desk into motion like it was a toy. The house itself comes to life.

“I prayed out for you, where were you?”

“Be quiet.”

“You, you were nowhere!” Her scream lost in the howling torrent inside the parlor. A book flies across the room, slamming into his head nearly knocking him out. A china cabinet slides five feet forwards and then falls in a loud clamor, porcelain and glass shattering across the floor.

He grabs her by the arms and slams her back onto the divan, laying on top of her. “Anna,” he yells through her howling, shaking her by her arms, trying to snap her out of it. “Mrs. Strong!”

“Oh, is he angry now?” she snaps and bites at his face, making him flinch his head back. “What will he do? Kill the traitor? But you won’t will you, you’re too weak to do anything because you want to fuck her! You are pathetic!”

He backhands her hard across the face but she keeps screaming at him, blood staining her teeth from where he split her lip. With her incredulous strength, she nearly throws him off of her body as she begins thrashing and violently jerking and contorting herself beneath him, digging her nails into his arms. His ears feel as if they may bleed as she purges forth an endless torrent of crying, screaming of the anguish of a dead child she has never known.

He screams her name, again and again, trying to wake her out of her hysteria. A framed picture crashes into his shoulder, the shattered glass cutting his face. Taking a deep breath he tightens his fist and strikes her in the temple. Hard. She falls limp beneath him. The wind ceases. The furniture stills. Papers float back to the ground, feathers from pillows and cushions slowly hang on the air. The entire manor falls silent, not a sound but his own labored panicked breath and the faint metallic sound of the rain on the gutters.

In disbelief he remains frozen in place. Perhaps too frightened to move. Slowly he turns his head around and looks at the parlor. Utterly destroyed. It appears as if it fell victim to an artillery shelling or suffered the unrestrained fervor of a gang of looting rioters. He slowly brings his eyes down on the unconscious woman beneath him. His heart drops in his chest at the sight of her. Blood smeared down her lips and chin. Swelling red flesh on the side of her face where he had struck her.

He gathers her up in his arms, carries her up the stairs and lays her on her bed. Sits down alongside her. Stares out at nothing. For a long while. A hard lump sits in his throat.

He glances over to her and gently takes her hand. Bows his head and for the first time in many years, begins to pray.

 

OOO

 

Hewlett stands in the pouring rain waiting. He pounds on the door again and stamps his feet to shake off the cold.

After several minutes Captain Simcoe answers the door. He’s in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows covered with a stained white waistcoat half buttoned. Disheveled. Wig missing. A sweaty sheen on his short copper hair. Swollen tired eyes.

“Major,” he says putting an arm up on the doorjamb and looking around suspiciously. “Are you alone? Did you bring the supplies?”

“Yes, the lumber is on the wagon. I’m confused as to why—”

Simcoe pulls him inside and then steps out and grabs the box and carries it inside and locks the door behind him. He squats down and starts going through the contents. “Ten boxes of morphine, right?”

“Everything you asked for is there.”

“Very good, Major. Please, make yourself at home. Watch your step.”

Hewlett walks into the parlor. Papers and books strewn everywhere, tables and chairs flipped and broken, paintings torn and on the floor, a broken window, wallpaper in drooping shreds. “My God. What on earth?”

“—Mrs. Strong has had a difficult week.”

Impatiently, Hewlett asks, “Mrs. Strong did this?”

“Yes.”

Not in the mood to deal with his captain’s infuriatingly dead pan cockiness, he drops the subject. Pulling off his gloves and carefully walking around broken glass and plaster Hewlett says, “There’s another reason I came over here to speak with you. Abraham Woodhull is missing.”

“Oh? How distressing.”

Hewlett swallows and looks down and clears his throat. “Have you seen him here?”

“I’m sorry Major, but I have not seen Mr. Woodhull in quite some time,” Simcoe says in his most insincere voice. He pushes debris off a coffee table and drops the box Hewlett brought on top. “I would offer to help investigate, but frankly, perhaps justice has been done for Captain Joyce. And I am needed here.”

“He is the son of the magistrate of this town, who happens to be a dear friend of mine,” Hewlett says clenching his jaw. “Anyway, his family drama is affecting our balance here and interfering in things.” Putting his hand out gesturing the entire parlor, he asks, “And what exactly is going on here, Captain?”

Simcoe looks up at him. His words hesitate on his tongue. His hands clench until his knuckles crack and look like they are ready to pop through the skin. “Do you believe in evil, Major?”

The question disarms Hewlett. He clears his throat, mutters, “Yes, of course—I believe there is evil in this world.”

“Do you believe evil has form? A name? That it can overtake a person—make them something else entirely?”

"What are you talking about, Captain?”

“I am saying that—Mrs. Strong is being affected by something beyond our world,” Simcoe says, snapping an ampule of morphine open. “Something foul with malicious intent to harm her.”

Hewlett shakes his head dismissively. “Have you gone absolutely mad.” He walks over and stands by the fireplace currently burning the remnants of a splintered wingback. “It is blasphemy to even joke about such things, Captain.”

“It is no joke. You see this room. You see this,” Simcoe pulls his collar down showing deep gashes on his chest he sustained in a battle of seduction. He learned the devil does not take well to rejection. “She is under his attack, there is no other answer.”

Hewlett winces at the sight of his wound, sighs and says, “At least let me bring a doc—”

“You cannot do that,” Simcoe cuts him off, nearly shouting. He softens his tone and adds, “No one else can know.”

“Because of your superstition?”

“What I believe is irrelevant. It is what they believe isn’t it? If this backwater town that already despises her, believes her to be touched by devilry or witchcraft, it is over.”

Hewlett nervously thinks about it for a moment. “Perhaps. However, I do not believe it is your call to say whether Mrs. Strong sees a doctor or not on account of you not being her husband or master. Why don’t we ask her and settle this?” Hewlett straightens his clothes and wig in the shattered mirror above the fireplace and then turns to Simcoe. “That is if you haven’t drugged her beyond her senses. Where is she?”

“In light of you sending Mr. Strong on a one way voyage on the Jersey, there is no husband to care for Mrs. Strong, you are correct,” Simcoe answers in his infuriating sarcastic way while preparing the morphine, plunging it up into a new invention he had come across called a hypodermic, carefully mixing it to the correct ratio, one he’d been fine tuning over the course of many days. “But being this is my home, I am obligated to protect it and those who occupy it. And the lady of the house is resting after a long night.”

“Shall we then,” Hewlett says, starting to walk to the staircase before Simcoe stands up. Hewlett stops and motions for him to lead the way but Simcoe moves in front of him and says, “I really think it would be best to let her rest, Major.”

Hewlett’s jaw clenches and jerks in irritation. “Captain, do not make me order you.”

Simcoe stares Hewlett down for a moment, knowing it unnerves him, watching his facial twitches and gestures of his impossible to hide anger and frustration. “Do you have your pistol?”

“My pistol?”

“Careful where you have it, she is wickedly fast.”

Hewlett pauses for a moment and then decides to leave his pistol on a small table at the base of the staircase and follows Simcoe up the stairs, down the hall to a closed door with a crude lock on the outside of it. He looks at Hewlett before opening it. “Don’t let your guard down.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

Knocking lightly on the door before turning the knob, Simcoe says, “She is not the Anna you remember.”

The room is dark, the only light coming from slits in the drawn curtains. Standing in the corner of the room is Anna, her back to them. She’s leaning against the wall standing still as a statue. The upper half of her occluded by shadow but he can see she’s wearing a white nightgown that cuts off at her knee. Purple, yellow and black bruises cover her exposed legs. Hewlett grabs her robe that is on the bed and approaching her, slowly, he walks over and places it onto her shoulders.

In a raspy voice that strains through her throat, so raw and damaged from screaming and groaning, she croaks, “Do you fear for my modesty, Major?”

He nervously laughs. “The gentleman I am.”

She turns around and faces him, and Hewlett gasps at the sight of her. Gaunt. Anemically pale. Almost grey in color. Her eyes sunken and dark. Bruised face and her lip split.

“I’m so sorry to see you in such a state,” Hewlett says, his voice weak with heartache at seeing her this way. He leads her by the arm to the chair of her dressing table and sits her down. She wraps the robe around her and crosses her arms over her chest. He wants to comfort her, to hold her, but instead lays his hand gently on her shoulder and gives it an awkward light squeeze. “Captain Simcoe has told me you’ve been suffering some—unknown ailment.”

“Don’t worry Major, I have been quite well,” she smiles. She takes a deep breath and sighs. “Although I do fear the captain may be exaggerating whatever he has told you.”

Hewlett looks at her and smiles back. “That is his way I suppose.”

“Although I fear even more that he may not be.”

“Do you not remember what happens?”

She shakes her head looking at the floor. “It is as if I am pushed out of my own mind. I go away.”

“Where do you go?”

“I don’t know,” she snaps.

“Would you like me to call a doctor for you, Mrs. Strong?”

She shakes her head. Smiles and squeezes his forearm. “No doctor can help me, Major. I would only ask for your prayer. And—your mercy in allowing me to stay in my home for the time being.”

He kneels alongside her chair and says, “Do not worry about such things right now. I can perhaps—put guardianship to Captain Simcoe in the meantime. And you will always have my prayer, Mrs. Strong. Always.”

She runs her hands over her face and groans and stretches her back, her posture and movement becomes more fluid. She reaches out and takes Hewlett’s hand into hers. “Such a sweet, generous man,” she says flatly. Runs her fingers over his fingers and flips his palm up as if she were reading his future. “Your hands are so soft, Major. Not really the hands of a soldier, are they?”

“Well, I—suppose not, I’ve not been much in the trenches.”

“Not like our captain’s, his are dreadfully coarse. As a man’s hands should be,” she smiles and glances at him. Looking back at his palm, she sighs, “No, these are the hands of a man who makes his living not in works of labor but tongues and tributes. Do you value your conquests of the pen, Major?”

There is a bone chilling coldness in the room, the air feeling heavy on the lungs, palpable on the tongue. An unsettling shiver creeps up his spine and his gut twists as he starts to think that everything Simcoe had told him was true. This Anna, who smiles sweetly at him with the face of the woman he knew, but behind it, in her eyes was someone else entirely. Perhaps it is her manner or language, the difference is nothing that can be seen with anything as plain and untrustworthy as eyes. But she is a stranger nonetheless.

“I must confess I know not of what you’re speaking Mrs. Strong,” Hewlett stutters nervously. “I serve His Majesty, that is all.”

She smiles. “I’m sure you do. His Majesty is a hungry one, is he not? Devouring all.”

She brings his hand to cradle her face and closes her eyes. “So soft,” she whispers. “Like a wealthy woman, who hardly lets anymore but silk and furs pass her touch. Porcelain and unstained. No wonder you are still a virgin,” she smiles and then looks up at him with mock surprise. “Or maybe not. It is so hard to tell such things, you know.”

He tries to rip his hand away from her but she clamps her grip upon it harder. “Mrs. Strong, what can I do to help you?”

Anna stares at him for a moment with challenging and sarcastic regard. She bursts out in laughter. “You want to help me!” As if she’s just realized something, she squeezes his hand so tightly it begins to hurt. “Is that why you sent my husband away to die? So I must whore myself to you? Make me suffer whatever sick perversion you fancy, is that it? Make father proud?”

“Mrs. Strong, please,” he swallows hard. A cold panic blossoms at her passing reference to a deeply buried trauma he had told not a soul. Desperate, frightened, he tries to yank his hand from her grasp but her strength is incredible. He wonders how it is possible this small woman may break his bones with her bare hands. What has happened to his dearest tavern keep. “Such language does not suit you.”

With her free hand, she pulls up her gown and bares her thighs to him. She chuckles when he instinctively looks away and jerks him forward, placing his hand between her legs. His face now just inches from hers. “What does suit me, Major?” she says softly, so closely, he can feel her breath on his lips. He almost kisses her. Shame and a covetous desire burn through his blood as her touch invokes visions of fervent violent pleasures of the flesh. With inhuman strength she brings his hand up her thighs until his fingers slide against her soft wetness. “Being your whore?”

“No,” he exclaims, leaning and pulling himself back, unable to get away from her. “I would never suggest such a thing!”

Rocking her hips against him, she smiles and her eyes flutter close and then open again. “Are you getting hard, Major?”

“I, please—Mrs. Strong, this is a sin—”

“You are, aren’t you?”

He tries to flex his hand but her grip is too strong. He grabs her hair and tightens his fist. In his sternest voice which only amuses her, he shouts, “Mrs. Strong, I demand you stop this!”

Her eyes light up and she grins. “Or what? A spanking?”

“Stop this at once!”

The amusement on her face drops and she stills. Looking entirely disgusted and bored, she releases his hand making him stumble backward. “I prefer Captain Simcoe’s hands,” she sighs. As if remembering something pleasant she closes her eyes for a moment and smiles. “Rough and ravenous.”

She turns to face her mirror and picks up a white lacquered handled brush off the dressing table and pulls it through her hair and begins to hum softly, as if nothing had happened. Hewlett stands there staring, still in shock, his hand throbbing in agony, wet, smelling of his blood and her lust. She sighs and continues running the brush in long slow strokes through her wild brown hair. “Don’t worry, I’m unsurprised. I’ve always suspected you a sodomite to be honest.”

“I beg your pardon madam?” Hewlett stutters over his words as his anger and humiliation surges. “Captain Simcoe is—has—with you?"

As if amused by the utterings of a child, says, “Poor naïve Edmund. Is it him that you really want? The tall mad captain that haunts our dreams and desires,” she laughs and sighs mirthfully. “You’ve thought about it I know. I do wonder what he would think of you harboring such perversions. I imagine he would simply laugh at you, unsurprised by your predictability. You are quite laughable, aren’t you Edmund?”

“Now listen here—”

“If the girl in the dark parlor, the one with the pale eyes, had been a beautiful boy, like our captain, would you have gone through with it?”

Hewlett feels as if he might faint, the blood in his ears pounding. Hearing a shameful secret brought to light of day, thrown at him with an attack upon his manhood as if it were a comical tripe to kick around leaves him speechless. Her cruel words sting his soul, hearing such venom from her, whom he had secretly wished for her to harbor some affection for him as he was beginning to feel for her. He doesn’t know what to say.

He gathers enough semblance to step back towards the door. “Gooday, Mrs. Strong. I’ll see you again soon.”

As he turns the knob of the door she says, “I do hope so.”

 

OOO

 

Hewlett shuts the door behind him and leans up against it. Closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He jumps when he suddenly sees Simcoe standing around the corner of the hallway.

“Do you believe me now?”

Hewlett looks at Simcoe and tries to say something but the words trip on his disbelief of what he just saw. “I don’t—know what I—”

“You’re injured.”

Hewlett stares down at his hand. “I suppose I am.”

Simcoe walks into the adjacent bedroom and emerges with a small towel and hands it to Hewlett. Pulling his sleeve up, he shows Hewlett a deep red and purple starburst of color on his bicep. “Bite mark,” he says covering it back up. He then pulls his shirt to expose deep raking scratch marks on his back.

Hewlett wraps his hand and puts pressure upon his wrist to try to stop the throbbing. He slides down the wall and sits upon the floor in a heap. Simcoe does the same on the opposite wall. “John, I would’ve thought perhaps she was just going mad—that is what I thought, and, well—she spoke of things—”

“She could not know, yes?”

Hewlett nods. “And I felt this strange—cold feeling come over me when she touched me. Like nothing I have ever experienced. And even now—it felt like—”

“Evil.”

Hewlett rests his head back against the wall. “—Yes, evil.”

“Did she rouse desires of—unspeakable things?”

“Yes,” he confesses in a whisper. He does not go into detail of the shameful sinful images that surged forth, the nearly unbearable urge to possess her, violently and without mercy. Tears sting his eyes and his stomach pains him terribly for having such thoughts, of seeing such things in his own mind. “But how? Why? How is this possible?”

“That is what the serpent does, he uses women to do his bidding, to lead us all into his grasp. Just like he did with our first mother.” Simcoe places his elbow on his bent up knee and rest his tired head in his hand. After a long moment he says, “What I have witnessed this past week with her, I do not deny it any longer—she has been possessed by the devil.”

 

OOO

 

Days go by. For Anna, it is an unconscious blur in which she loses all sense of time. Disconnected memories of two British officers she once despised, whom now her life depends on. Every moment she has the strength to do so she goes upon her knees and prays, desperately, intensely with tears and complete humbleness to God, but yet he does not answer her prayer. It seems the more she prays, the closer to death she becomes.

“I can’t describe it,” she says to Hewlett, who sits in a chair alongside her while she drifts in and out in her morphine haze. “Other than it’s like a beast—scratching to get out. A swarm of darkness, devouring. It wants me to surrender.”

He takes her hand and gives her an encouraging smile. “Then you must fight it.”

“Why?”

Taken back by her frankness, he squeezes her hand. “Well, I—we—the captain and I, care a great deal for you.”

“A great deal,” she mutters as she falls back unconscious.

Day is the only time all three get any sleep, it is the nights most often when her haunting shrieks and cries echo throughout the manor. The very walls seem to breathe with her, reacting to her every emotion. The beams of the floor groaning as they bow under her boundless anger. Eventually they must remove all furniture from her room. Wall hangings. Her room stripped bare of everything but her bed and the curtains remaining. The contents of her room crammed into the hallway.

Whatever it is inside her, drives her to claw at her own flesh, screeching like a lunatic about insects inside her and fallen angels, writhing in agony before they must sedate her once again.

By some strange fate, both Major and Captain become her guardians, her caretakers, her priests. Each one there for different reasons; love, guilt. They hold constant vigil trying to keep her from forever being beyond the light. Pray over her every night. Sit by her side, Bible in hand. But her affliction does not ease, it drives her to mock, deride, insult and embarrass her two self-appointed guardians for their trouble. It seeks to seduce and defile. Shows of her nakedness, loud moans to lure them to her while she pleasures herself for their benefit. Switching from normal conversation to her speaking of perverse desires are not uncommon with this particular demon.

Simcoe and Hewlett argue one night. Simcoe wishes to ride a day’s trip to a township of Catholics. To fetch a priest to perform an exorcism. Hewlett refuses to expose Anna to heresies, he worries such a thing will send them all to hell and help nothing. Simcoe obeys Hewlett’s orders, but this refusal sparks the kindling of deep distrust between them. The darkness that haunts these halls of Strong Manor, the invisible dark swarm scurrying over their very flesh while they sleep, stoke this fire of discontent, whispering of half-truths and suspicions in their ear.

For what is more enjoyable to a demon than the suffering and pain of man?

The seeds they plant in men’s dreams and subconscious mind all but guarantee they will fall into madness.

He will take her from you.

He will betray you.

Men who love, men of passion make easy pawns.

She loves only you.

You must save her from him.

Both becoming more entangled in the spider’s web with every day that passes, with every attempt to help the poor woman under attack, they are viciously attacked and suffer for their troubles. For it becomes clear that this is a war, in which the enemy never rests. Never tires. Never stops. An enemy that is always present but never seen. An enemy who watches them all in amusement as they fall to temptation, one after another.

“It’s a horrible thing for a father to do,” Simcoe tells him one evening over a meal of rice and dried beef, after a particularly violent episode from the lady of the house, another opportunity for her to expose and mock the two British officer’s inner most pains. “To force the physical with no love. Or choice. It’s a kind of rape in a way, isn’t it?”

“I don’t recall asking for your opinion, Captain.”

“Regardless, I’m giving it to you.”

Hewlett clears his throat and nods. “Well, I—appreciate the sentiment.”

Simcoe bows his head and lifts his glass before drinking its contents in one gulp.

“I hope your father did not make the same mistakes.”

“My father died when I was ten. I was not that advanced.”

Hewlett nods. After a long silence he says, “Losing a brother must be hard.”

“Are you trying to be my friend, Major?”

Hewlett sighs and goes back to his burnt rice. “I can’t think of anything more unpleasant.”

Uncomfortable silence passes. Simcoe sits back in his chair. “Nothing she has said has been untrue. I left him to die.”

“Where did you go?”

“What everything leads back to, a girl.” Simcoe stands up and grabs a plate and scoops some rice onto it. “Now if you’ll excuse me, there is another girl destroying my life I must attend to.”

“John wait,” Hewlett calls out and Simcoe stops and turns around. “Be truthful with me. Is what she says true?”

“Some things.”

“I mean—about you and—her.”

A twisted smile spreads across Simcoe’s features. “Would it matter?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why ask?”

Hewlett does not answer. Sensing his jealousy, Simcoe jumps on him in an instant.

“Are you in love with her?”

Hewlett scoffs and shakes his head. “Don’t be absurd, Captain. I simply respect and care for Mrs. Strong as a friend.”

“You are, aren’t you?” Simcoe says mirthfully, as if everything is now coming together. “She’s speaking the truth then, is she not? You did send her husband away to sell his property and steal his wife! How diabolical, Major,” he laughs.

“Watch your tongue, Captain,” Hewlett snaps and slams his hand down on the table. “That is a lie.”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Loving her, that is,” Simcoe says. “Is that why you’re here? To keep me away from her?”

“I am only here to assist Mrs. Strong in her need—as a good Christian should.”

Simcoe bursts out laughing. “Do good Christians covet a neighbor’s wife?”

Hewlett stands up and Simcoe takes a step towards him and stares him down. They stare at one another, both on the edge of explosion, one ready to kill the other. “Give me a reason.”

Through his teeth, Hewlett says, “Stand down, Captain.”

Simcoe looks directly at Hewlett with intense blue eyes. “Do not think your rank protects you from all your crimes, Major. If you come near her, I will make it my purpose in life to see you exposed for what you are.”

 

OOO

 

The intense tension between them all only grows. Simcoe and Hewlett hardly talk. Each one convinced of plots and ill motives, both real and imagined. Paranoia blossoms in the chaos.

“It’s only a matter of time before they burn me,” she says, pulling Simcoe out of his restless sleep as he keeps vigil on a chaise by her side.

He clears his throat and sits up. Takes her hand into his and sighs, "That will not happen as long as I am around.”

Tears spill down her cheek and she holds his hand to her chest. “You wouldn’t let that happen, would you.”

“Never.”

He sits on the edge of her bed and looks down at her. She lifts her head as if she might kiss him, but she only keep her face near his. He looks into her dark eyes and is drawn in, a sharp painful need burns in his chest to feel her touch, as if her flesh itself contains his very next breath. He inhales her face, breathes it in. He breathes her in, his beloved, his eyes shut he breathes in her breath, the warm air coming out of her.

“You love me, do you not?”

Her lips brush against his as he swallows hard and answers, “Beyond measure.”

Then she kisses him. A deep, hot, wet kiss. Keeping his mouth to hers she takes his hand, guiding it beneath the hem of her gown, and draws it up, over the hot smooth of her belly, the ridge of her rib cage, over the soft swell of her breast. Into his ear she whispers, “You would kill them all.”

“I would slay the world for you.”

Her bloodlust only rouses his excitement and he pulls her to him and kisses her madly down her jaw and neck, devours her breasts. Taking off his waistcoat he throws it to the floor and pulls his shirt up over his head and throws it as well. He looks down at her. Reality snakes through the spell he is under when he realizes what he’s doing. That he must resist. He stops. “Mrs. Strong,” he sighs, takes her roaming hands and pins them alongside her head. She leans her head forward to kiss him but he pulls back out of her reach. “You are not yourself.”

“On the contrary, Captain. I’ve never been more myself.” Her smile and wide black eyes send a horrible unease through his chest and stomach. “Do you not desire me?”

“I want Anna, not you.”

“She is right before you, and so willing,” she says so cloyingly he almost slaps her. Lifting her hips up to him, undulating beneath him she begs, "Touch me."

“I will not rape her,” he spits as he struggles to keep her pinned down, struggles to keep his reaction to her out of her notice. “You cannot force me.”

She arches one brow above a mad eye, and pouts her pale lips. In one motion, she rolls them onto his back and she sits herself upon his lap. “Force you?” she smiles and slides her hand down his breeches. An invisible weight presses upon him, paralyzing his body as she squeezes and strokes him. “Why Captain, your cock says otherwise.” Leaning down she whispers and laughs, “You can’t rape a whore.”

“She is not a whore,” he says, his words ride out on his gasps and sharp intakes of breath as he tries to resist her molestations.

“Isn’t she though,” she smiles. “The things she thinks about, the men she has fucked—shall I tell them to you?”

“Quiet!”

She leans forward and kisses his lips, his cheek, his ear. “She touches herself thinking of you, does that excite you?” Her breath a hot torrent as she speaks in a tongue he does not recognize. The words hot and wet begin to creep across his flesh like an unleashed swarm and scrape and squirm down his ear canal. He cries out in a panic and tries to lift his arm to push her away but he is held by some force he cannot see or understand; his scream is lost in a silent gasp, his voice stolen from him. Both of their bodies under another’s control.

The room darkens and his vision becomes narrow and focused. The walls stretch out as if they have gotten longer. Their shapes, fluid. His ears play tricks on him as he hears her whisper yet sees her lips do not move as she gazes down upon him. It is in his thoughts she now speaks to him. Everything becomes a lurid blur as she leaves kisses along his neck and chest, he feels the tugs of her opening his breeches but he can do nothing to stop her. He lets out a deep groan as she takes him into her mouth. His mind set adrift in a haze of violent lust and sinful craving, as if the world where he made a promise to himself that he would resist the temptations of the flesh, of evil, was a reality in some strange book he had read long ago. All that he knows now, all he feels, is the exquisite pleasure his beautiful Anna is giving him.

Now he exists as if in a dream where he is both the player and the audience with neither having the ability to affect the other. The script already written the events playing their prescribed motions. Slowly, as if coming out of morphine sleep, he becomes aware that his mouth is on hers. Their position reversed, his knees now pinning hers open wide against the mattress. His hand around her throat, both of her hands tightly grasped around his forearm frantically trying to ease his crushing grip, his other hand between her legs. Every touch of her skin against his, every gasp for breath, every moan stirs a manic hunger inside to devour her.

All his anger, frustration and primal base instincts usurp reason and restraint. In an urgent need to possess her, he tears the flap of his breeches open the rest of the way and grips her tightly by the hips, yanks her up onto his thighs. She yelps in surprise when he takes the neckline of her nightgown in his fists and angrily rips the thin gauze material that she flaunts around in, teasing him with her bouncing unrestrained tits. Exposes her completely, enjoying the quickening of her breath. The tensing of her muscles. He roughly palms her breasts, slides his hand up her chest and neck. He slaps her cheek and grabs her by the jaw. Kisses her. Into his mouth she moans, drags her nails down his back so hard it draws blood. When she licks her lips and smiles at him, he slaps her again. So hard he splits her lip. The devil only need look up at him and smile with her own blood upon her lips to make his cock unbearably ache. He sinks his fingers into her hair and roughly yanks her head back. Kisses her again and with one hand between them, guides himself inside her. She cries as he takes her in hard sharp thrusts that make the entire bed lurch and headboard hit the wall. The forbidden thrill of the taste of her blood on their tongues stirring him into a frenzy. All control slips away.

He does not hear or notice Hewlett, who could hear the telltale sounds of what was going on, open the door and look inside.

Not wanting to believe, but having to confirm with his own eyes, he sees his captain and the woman he felt so much fondness for, entangled and rutting like crazed animals. With Simcoe’s face to her neck, Anna looks at Hewlett for a moment. Making sure he knows she sees him watching. Letting him look at how much she is loving his captain, and not him, wrapped between her thighs.

Hewlett quickly closes the door and leans against it. Rage, betrayal, jealousy, devastation, arousal; it all envelops him at once. He had suspected, and now it had been confirmed before his very eyes. The image impossible to unsee. He goes into his room and paces back and forth. His mind racing. Not wanting to believe what he has just seen.

The night goes on in a tear blurred haze. He places his pillow over his head to try to block out the sound of them echoing throughout the manor. It does not work. He wonders how Anna could do such a thing. She wouldn't do that. Ever.

You must save her from him.

He gets out of bed and takes his pistol out of the footlocker.

 

OOO

 

Bursting into the room, Hewlett points his pistol at the couple in the bed, Simcoe's large body on top of Anna, his chest to her back. “Of all the unforgivable crimes,” Hewlett spits, the pistol in his hand shaking in anger. “Get off of her now.”

“Major—,” Simcoe starts.

At the top of his lungs, Hewlett screams, “Get off of her!”

Simcoe sits up and slides to the edge of the bed and stands up, holding his ripped breeches up with one hand. “You’re going to kill me? Over jealousy, Major?”

“Jealousy? I am hardly so petty. I always knew you were a brutish man, but a rapist I never took you for Captain.”

"Rapist?"

Anna covers herself with a sheet bunched up into her fist against her chest. She slowly walks behind Hewlett. “He forced me,” she says stifling a sob. “And struck me when I refused.”

“That is a lie,” Simcoe says snaps. “She seduced me!”

Hewlett looks at Anna and sees her freshly split lip and blood smeared face. “You did this to her?”

“We—,” he hesitates, “—we became—passionate.”

“Passionate? She's bleeding!”

Simcoe turns slowly around so Hewlett can see Anna’s handiwork on his deeply cut back and then turns back around. “Passionate. Something I assume you can’t understand.”

“Quiet!” Hewlett shouts, his anger boils beyond and his conscious mind lets go to his emotional one. He keeps the pistol aimed at Simcoe and takes a step back when he walks forward. “I swear to Christ John if you move I will shoot you.”

Simcoe raises his eyebrows. “What are you going to do with me?”

“See you hang.”

Hewlett turns his head to look at Anna and Simcoe sees his chance. He lunges forward and grabs the gun by the barrel and twists it out of Hewlett’s hand but the weapon discharges right into Simcoe’s thigh. He cries out in pain, his leg falling out from under him, but he still lands a solid punch to the side of Hewlett’s face. With the pistol in his hand, Simcoe lands blows on Hewlett in his arm, shoulder, the side of his head.

Simcoe grabs Hewlett by his shirt and drags him into the hallway, sliding him down the hardwood floors and throws him down the stairs. Hewlett’s body rolls and stumbles down landing at the bottom in a groaning heap. Simcoe watches him writhe for a few seconds. His blood on fire. He hardly feels his wound and runs down the stairs and pushes him out the door where he punches him again. Hewlett bent over in pain sees his opportunity to take Simcoe down, and he runs full force into the captain tackling him to the muddy ground.

“You, you son of a bitch,” Simcoe yells, grabs him by the shirt and punches him full force in the side of the head. “You fucking shot me!” Simcoe overpowers Hewlett and pins him beneath and begins pummeling Hewlett with blows, screaming in his blinding rage. Hewlett manages to throw mud in Simcoe’s face and it is enough to create a break in his onslaught. Using his leverage, he shoves Simcoe off of and twists out from under him and crawls away, dragging his body through the mud on his elbows.

“Captain if you do not stop this I will have you court martialed for attacking a superior officer!”

Simcoe laughs and staggers to his feet, wiping his face clear. “How like you.” Hewlett is on his hands and knees when Simcoe walks over and kicks him hard with a muddy boot in the gut. Hewlett heaves and groans in pain and falls to his side. “Cowering behind procedure because you can’t fight me like a man, is that it? Because you thought I wouldn’t know of your deceit?”

He kicks him again knocking the wind out of his lungs, cracking a rib. “Because you wouldn’t know how to run a garrison if it burrowed up your tight molly ass and lived there?”

“All you have is your threats, Edmund,” he says as he lands a kick to his head. Hewlett’s vision goes white and the pain is excruciating. He rolls over onto his back and grimaces in pain. Simcoe grabs him up by his lapels. “You will not take her from me.”

Simcoe drops the major who cries out as he hits the ground. Simcoe looks around. An axe is lodged in a chopping block just a few feet away. Prying it lose, he carries it over and stands over his commanding officer.

“John,” Hewlett wheezes, trying desperately to regain his full vision and balance, “Captain, please, be reasonable!”

Deep breath.

He slings the axe up over his shoulder and holds it there. His muscles tense up, ready to swing when he hears Anna’s voice behind him. He turns to see her standing barefoot, in nothing but her robe completely soaked from the rain, clinging to her body.

He doesn’t want you to be together.

He will take her from you.

“I won’t you let you do it,” Simcoe says through clenched teeth to Hewlett, holding the axe high overhead. All he has to do is let it come down, it will be easy. “I won’t!”

“Wait!” The major coughs and says, “It’s the devil playing tricks on us, John. Please don’t do this! I beg you!”

Simcoe squeezes the wooden grip and takes in a sharp breath. His muscles tense and tremble.

“John,” Anna says softly, placing her hand on his back. “Stop.”

“I don’t have a choice,” he chokes out.

“There is always choice,” she says and stands in front of him. “Who’s decision is this? Your own?”

The voice falls silent. A strange feeling like déjà vu washes over him. His grimaced face softens. He suddenly feels very tired. His leg excruciating. Slowly, he lowers the axe and throws it down. He spits on the ground and shakes his arm loose of Anna’s hand and limps back to the house.

 

OOO

 

A knock comes upon Hewlett’s door and Anna comes in and closes the door behind her. Hewlett is lying in bed, suffering the slow process of healing broken bones.

“Mrs. Strong?”

“I wanted to check on you,” she says, sitting alongside him on the bed. “I was worried.”

“You’re out of your room?”

“Captain Simcoe is resting. His wound has made him quite weak. He may die.”

“I see,” Hewlett murmurs.

“But you are looking quite well,” she smiles. “Come, let us get some fresh air.”

She takes him by the hand and leads him down the stairs and to the front door. She suddenly says, “Catch me if you can!” and darts out into the rain squealing like a playful child.

Hewlett runs after her, calling her to come back. He hears her girlish laughs ahead and follows her across the property and into the cornfield. He makes his way through the muddy rows and drooping stalks, rotten from rain. He hears a rustling of leaves and a shadow move, but there is nothing there. Then he turns around and Anna is standing before him. “I found you, I win.”

An invisible force weighs down on him, forcing him down making him collapse to his knees.

“That’s better,” she muses, and cradles his cheek in her hand. “This is how you belong.”

“Mrs. Strong, what is happening?”

He is forced onto his back. Anna stands over him and then lowers herself onto his lap, straddling him. Putting her hand over his cock she smiles, “I’ve wanted this a long time, Edmund.”

“Please don’t,” Hewlett gasps as her hand works over him. Anna ignores him, only finding his pleas and distress amusing. “Are you not with Simcoe?”

“You think I care about either of you fools?” Stroking him faster she smiles. Leans over him and putting her lips to his ear says, “Did you think about him touching me? Or what it feels like to have a huge deranged Welshman fucking you senseless in every manner?”

“Mrs. Strong, I know you’re still in there,” he says, his words breaking as he fights to control his voice, “I pray your return.”

“Yes, pray, that will work,” she laughs and positions herself over him. “All this talk of Simcoe got you very hard, didn’t it,” she teases him relentlessly, rubbing herself against him before she slowly sinks down, taking his virtue, his years of abstinence in an instant. He closes his eyes and tries to will his erection away, to make it impossible for her to force him. It makes no difference. His flesh defies his spirit and is in utter deference to her touches.

“Please for decency’s sake, stop this.”

She stops moving on top of him and says, “You dare speak of decency to me?”

Trying to appeal to her he says, “Mrs. Strong, I know you think I falsely accused your husband or sent him away to get to you but that is not the case at all. I simply followed the law.”

“Oh, Edmund,” she starts laughing hysterically. “You turned her into a peasant overnight and then you think she will fall in love with you! And why, because you have the law on your side?”

She moves her hips and stretches her head back, looking up towards the sky, elongating her white throat. Hewlett watches her in both horror and awe as she rocks against him, he fails to block out or ignore the vision before him of her large breasts beneath a rain soaked gown, her erotic sounds as she grinds and bounces on him. Nearly bringing him to climax, suddenly, her body goes still. Her head back in ecstasy, her hands on his chest. The faint hum of flies flitters his inner ear.

Trapped beneath her, he watches helplessly as a black sea of spiders, beetles and centipedes erupt in a cascade from her out of her mouth down her neck and arms onto him. A terrifying panic surges through him and he tries to push her off, but an invisible force holds him down, her weight like that of a stone. He cannot get away. They swarm over his entire body covering him completely. He can feel their pincers gnawing and burrowing into his flesh, consuming him alive as he lie there feeling their every bite and tear.

Hewlett screams.

 

OOO

 

Simcoe wakes up with a nauseating headache. His leg feeling like the skin was going to rip from the swelling, tight and throbbing in hurt. From what he can tell it’s early morning, meaning he slept through the entire night. He jumps to his feet and stumbles into Anna’s room and is relieved to see her fast asleep in her bed. He goes downstairs and into the kitchen and fills the stove with wood and kindling and lights it. He fills a kettle and pot and puts them on the cold burners. Pours whiskey into a tea cup and sits down. Watches the fire inside the stove and sips on the sharp tasting drink. Listens to the ping and bang of the metal expanding with the heat of the stove. The events of the day before racing through his mind. The rumble of boiling water breaks him away from his thoughts and he prepares the coffee. In the pot he cooks some cereal, in a pan he cracks six eggs. He plates and eats all the eggs along with some dried beef and stale bread.

When he is done, he looks at his wound. An unbearable tightness around the flesh aches terribly. He searches in the kitchen for some herbs or a tincture or salve to dress it with but finds nothing. He tears through each bedroom, the laundry, and finally the basement. Rummaging through a couple of boxes, he comes across a small box and opens it up. Inside is a gold ring and a metal cross. He picks it up and inspects it. Places it in his pocket and closes the box and puts it back.

He returns to the kitchen and makes a plate for Anna. Just as he is pouring the coffee, he hears a scream from outside. He grabs his pistol and goes outside. He listens. Nothing. He walks down towards the gates and road and then again, he hears someone cry out, but this time he can pinpoint where it is coming from: the cornfield.

Simcoe swallows down his fear trying not to think of the last time he heard a scream coming from this field. The night he spent burying Abraham Woodhull’s dismembered corpse deep in the woods behind the house. When he combed and washed bits and chunks of gore from her hair. Scrubbed it from her fingernails.

The ground is saturated and it's like walking through clay as he makes his way across the rows. Every step an effort. He calls out but no one responds. Row after row he pushes through, sinking up to his ankles in the silty wet mud. And then, he can hear the sound of flies buzzing. Just as it was before. He knows in his heart he is close to another horror. He keeps moving forward, toward the sound. And then he comes upon it.

Another horror.

 

OOO

 

It’s a cold evening in October and Anna Strong is nowhere to be seen. As the light escapes the day, Captain Simcoe’s anxieties increase. He explores the house, the empty slave quarters, the barn. Near the gates by the road he stops walking when he hears a scream. It seems to shoot like a bullet from the cornfield adjacent the house, and then ricochets off every window, tin roof and siding. The scream’s pitch rises higher, as if the vocal chords responsible are being stretched taut. Standing still and looking down at the ground, he tries to determine from where the sound has originated, the echo obscuring it.

Quickly, he grabs and lights a torch and walks down the green across the road to the barrier of a cornfield towering with leafy stalks ten feet high.

“Mrs. Strong?” he calls out her name, cupping his mouth to try to bellow his voice out. He pauses and waits. But there is no answer.

He steps into the rows and walks in until the only hint of the house is the faint brightness of the top windows when the crop blows and sways. He calls out her name again.

Something scuttles under the weeds next to his left foot. Simcoe flinches and then bends over to peer through rows at their thinner roots. A bright-red pheasant darts away through the weeds at the base of the stalks, its tiny head bobbing up and down above its bulbous body. “Jesus,” he says, before feeling the sudden tightness dissolve in his muscles. He exhales noisily.

A sudden flutter of movement beside him brings him to a standstill. In the field something has flitted across the green stalks of the crop. He sees it from the corner of his eye. Something dark moves, flares up like a bear on its hind legs, and then quickly sinks to the ground.

“Who is out here? I demand you answer in the name of the King.” He adds, “Upon punishment of death!”

He cocks his pistol. He cuts across several more rows, deeper and deeper he goes into the field until he feels if he goes any further he won’t find his way out. He calls out her name again. Following a row he walks a little bit more until he hears something. He freezes in place and hears it again, it sounds almost like a woman whispering. He walks quickly trying to follow the sound and with his torch pointed ahead can begin to see something ahead. The sound of flies buzzing vibrates in his ears.

He comes to the edge of a small clearing of crushed stalks, completely covered and dripping in blood. Anna standing in the middle of it. Her pale hands and face stained red and black. Her clothes soaked in blood and rain. At her feet, a man lays on his side, his throat completely opened. Simcoe takes a step inside the clearing, shines the torch on her. “Mrs. Strong, are you alright?” At the sound of him saying her name her head jerks up and looks directly at him. They both stare at each other. Then her eyes roll back. Her head lolls backwards. He thinks she must be in the grip of a seizure, but right before his eyes her body raises up, levitating above the blood soaked ground. He watches her in terrified amazement, not believing what he is seeing. Mere seconds before Anna drops to the ground in a sudden collapse into a motionless heap. He wastes no time and gathers her up, and slings her over his shoulder. Then he runs.

His ears begin to play tricks on him. Frightened out of his mind he concentrates on going forward. He thinks he came from this way but he can’t be sure so he just keeps on running through the muddy rows, tripping on clods of earth and the uneven ground in the dark. He does not know if she is even alive. She smells so strongly of blood he thinks he might be sick. Is any of that her blood? Can’t stop to check. Must keep moving forward.

He stops every hundred feet and listens, trying to hear any tell-tale sounds of being near the house or road. All he hears are the sound of flies buzzing and click of insect legs throwing off his sense of distance. But he gets no further than six or seven feet upward when something moves behind him, with a heavy sound. If he's not mistaken, something has just been dragged across the crushed stalks but he sees nothing when he looks over his shoulder.

The clearing finally comes and with his muscles burning in extremis he makes it all the way to the back of the house before he stops. He collapses to the ground and catching his breath and checks if Anna is alive. A steady pulse throbs along her neck. That night begins it all. And as he bathes unconscious Anna and clothes her and lays her upon the divan, he knows he will die in that house.

 

OOO

 

And so it is as he had done before, he removes her rain, mud and blood soaked clothes and places her into a tub and washes her face and scrubs her bloody feet and fingernails. He washes and combs the gore from her hair. Dresses her in clean clothes and places her into bed. And while she slumbers, he hides her crimes again.

Deep in the forest where the earth is still damp and easy to move, Simcoe shovels out a grave. Wrapped in a tarp with a rope around it, he pulls the body in. He shovels the dirt back over and then sits down for a moment and stares blankly out and rests. He looks up at the starless night. He was never much for the stars anyway. “There are many I would like to see dead in this place, Edmund,” he sighs and stands up brushing the dirt from his clothes and hands. “You were not one of them.”

He places brush and leaves over the disturbed earth. “You should have let me find a priest, dumb twit you are.”

 

OOO

 

Every day she grows weaker. She hardly eats. The evil inside her intent on pushing her body beyond its limits, straining her muscles, her vocal chords. He has to dose her in morphine so often he fears he will kill her before the devil does. Sitting alongside her bed, his elbows on his knees holding his head in his hands, she startles him out of his thoughts.

“John,” he hears her raspy voice start. “John, John. Captain, please."

"Yes, Mrs. Strong." He takes her damp trembling hand into his. His heart breaks for her. For himself. Almost whispering he says, "What do you need?”

“Has Major Hewlett returned?”

He is amazed at her lack of memory. This delicate creature brutally slaughtered two men but yet trembles before him. He tells her, “I’m afraid not.”

He wonders when he’ll be next.

She nods. “I see.”

“He’ll be back soon, I’m confident of it.”

She ignores him. Speaking through her tears she says, “You’re the only one who has not abandoned me."

“I will never do that,” he says squeezing her hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Tears fall down her cheek as she says, "So you must be the one. Please. Kill me."

"Oh my dear Mrs. Strong," he sighs. “That is one thing, I cannot do."

“You have to, I cannot go on this way.”

“You must.” He kisses her hand and lays his head upon it. “You must see it through.”

“I fear you are hiding something terrible. It has you frightened, I can see it, on your face.”

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she sits up and embraces him tightly. She keep her arms wrapped around his neck, begging him to stay, keeping him from standing up. He tries to unlock her arms around him but she is stronger than him. And as quickly as that Anna was gone again. She kisses his cheek and then his lips. He lets her although there is no real choice involved but he plays along, seeing his chance. He returns her kiss with ardor and pushes her onto her back, climbing on top of her, entwining his fingers with hers. It is so difficult to kiss her like this, it’s both relishing and revolting at once. While she kisses his neck he looks up and grabs the leather belt restraint and lassos her wrist he has held high above her head. Realizing what he is doing, she flails and screams, but he secures her other arm quickly into a strap as well. She cries and pleads, thrashing like wild woman as he uses every ounce of his strength to tie her ankles down.

“Please John, you’re hurting me!”

He walks to the side of the bed when he’s strapped her down, her body tied in an X position. She looks up at him whimpering and sobbing. He climbs on the bed on top of her and directly into her face shouts at the top of his lungs, “Shut your lying mouth, devil!”

Anna closes her eyes and flinches away from him. When she opens them again he is still right there just inches from her face. “Captain it’s me, please stop,” she says meekly, as he angrily hovers over her catching his breath, trying to regain composure. His knuckles white from squeezing his fist together until his blunt fingernails cut into his palm. His hatred for her creeps throughout his body, like acid burning flowing through his veins, into his heart. He feels a seductive urge to strike her. Strangle her. Rip her clothes off and humiliate her.

Kill her.

Almost as if his hands were being guided, his hands come to the sides of her neck. She shakes her head. Before she can open her mouth he puts a hand over it. Grasps her throat with the other. The promise of relief and satisfaction from watching the life drain out of her. A promise he can feel. Anna is shaking her head, her watery eyes desperately look to him in terror when a thought (a voice, a desire) of the most profane strikes like ice water on his spine.

Would she not feel even more exquisite in death?

He feels himself going mad. This constant invasion of his mind, his thoughts, his body; reality becoming harder to differentiate day by day. The uncertainty of his thoughts being his own.

Releasing her neck and mouth, shouting, he brings his fist into the wall above her head, Anna wincing beneath him as pieces of plaster showers onto her and the bed with every blow. He keeps punching, until he curses when the pain forces him to stop. Breathing heavily, he slowly climbs off of her and stands up.

“I will not fall for your trickery,” he spits. He goes downstairs, listening to Anna’s sob swallowed up the demon’s endless violent rage.

Screaming through the door, “Why do you stay here, do you honestly think I’ll fall in love with you? So you can tie me to the bed and undress and touch me like the perverted little boy you are!”

With shaky hands he prepares an injection for her as she screams rapist rapist rapist at him over and over. He wonders how long until one of them will kill the other. He cannot even trust his own ability to protect her. To think. A clock bongs somewhere.

Maybe he should kill her. Kill her then himself. No. Just himself.

No. Just her.

His mind overextended and sleep deprived he talks to himself over the pros and cons of a murder-suicide. He does not dilute her morphine before he plunges it up into the glass.

He should kill her. To protect her. To save her.

Kill her.

Yes.

To save her.

 

OOO

 

“Is the rapist back so soon?”

He leans one knee on the mattress alongside her and climbs up again onto her, straddling her waist. She thrashes and scream vitriol at him, pulling against the restraints so much he thinks she might break her wrist.

He reaches into his pocket for the syringe but something else brushes his fingers. Curious, he pulls it out and it is the cross pendant he had taken from the basement days earlier. As he gazes upon it between his fingers, he feels his heart awaken, a small sliver of light through the dark spell. There is one last thing to try before death.

Quickly before she can see it, he presses it to his lips and then grabs the back of her neck with one hand and presses it to her forehead with the other. As soon as the metal touches her skin she begins screaming in agony, the smell of burning flesh taints the air. He recites a psalm, not even knowing if such a thing will work, but if it does not, he knows he will have to kill her. Anna’s anguished cries and howls that fill the room like thunder, her eerie voice starts into a recitation, a demonic prayer of some kind, the very sound of it, words of the devil, puts his nerves on edge, his ears feel as if they are bleeding. But he cannot stop.

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His Face. As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God!

He repeats it again and again. Allowing nothing to cause him pause or interruption.

Not even as he sees the walls darken with pitch black blood, oozing from the ceiling. The metallic and rotting smell of it almost makes him vomit, his concentration now a desperate struggle to maintain. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees large brown roaches crawling on the headboard. Their scurrying legs clicking against the metal. A burst of spiders appear on her pillow. A buzzing rings in his ears and then beneath him, Anna goes stiff, her eyes turning white. A swarm of revolting creatures, the ones of the night, the ones of the Fallen and their demons, come pouring out of her mouth swarming over him. In mere seconds they’re running under his sleeves and up his back, down his breeches. Biting and scratching with razor sharp teeth. He yells the prayer louder. As loud as he can. For he knows it cannot stop.

They crawl into his mouth trying to silence him, he manages to spit them out and seal his mouth to his arm and yell the prayer muffled through his clothes and flesh. The swarm enraged, burrows into his skin, biting and with his eyes tightly closed he keeps praying.

And then she suddenly falls limp beneath him, her head drops in his hand. Completely unconscious. The swarm, gone. As he looks around, the blood on the walls, gone. The howling, silent. Shaking, he looks down. She looks so small and delicate. He carefully removes the cross from her forehead and pushes her hair away from her wound. A blistered and raw mark. A branding. He bunches up a pillow and gently lays her head down. Unties her wrists and folds her arms across her chest. He climbs off the bed and takes the leather straps off her ankles. Grabs the quilt bunched at the foot of the bed and spreads it over her. He collapses next to her in exhaustion, relief and tears and closes his eyes and falls to sleep.

 OOO