The Reflected Forest is a series told in parts as posts in this blog, if you haven’t read the first three, you can check them out here:
Don’t worry, I’ll wait…
1.4 The Reflected Forest – Blood Demands Blood
“Wow,” I digested the story.
The journal weighed heavy on my lap. I wondered if the journal contained Gertrude’s story, if it revealed something more about her disappearance.
“Was she ever found? Like a body, or anything?”
Lars shook his head.
“Nothing. She was gone, one hundred percent gone.”
I learned that our tree has been rotting.
“Lars, you lazy asshole, I need a fill!”
An older man, between fifty or sixty years, sat heavily onto the stool to the right of mine. He smelled heavily of the rich heady scent of tobacco and was dressed in paint-stained jeans, black suspenders, and a tucked-in blue plaid shirt. His jolly apple cheeks, Rudolph-esque nose, watery blue eyes sat in a sunburnt face ringed by a massive white mane and untamed beard. He held out a pint glass, which Lars filled.
“This is Anthony’s nephew, Tony. Tony, this is Rudy Morley, the owner of Belham’s oldest carpentry company and two-time winner of my annual beer chugging contest,” Lars said, moving back down the bar to refill more glasses.
Rudy, carpenter and beer-chugger extraordinaire, stuck out a callused hand. We shook. He took a couple deep swallows of his lager and wiped foam off his moustache.
“You got the house,” he said.
“Yeah, I did. I didn’t know my uncle very well, to be honest. I’m not sure why he willed it to me and not his son,” I said, conscious that I was blabbering on to a complete stranger and it was probably the beer’s fault.
“If I was you, I’d sell the house,” he said.
I already knew the general gist of the answer he would give me, but I asked anyway.
Tipping his head back, Rudy’s throat worked slowly as he finished his half-full beer. He lifted the glass in Lars’ direction. The man squinted as he stared down the room, waiting for Lars to come back.
“You tell him ‘bout the curse?” he asked when the bartender was close enough.
“Uh huh, you know I did. Belham’s very own ghost story,” he refilled both of our glasses before I could tell him I’d had enough.
“And a very spooky tale it is,” Rudy said, turning his gaze and grin back to me.
The drunk guy couldn’t have looked prouder of his hometown legend and I couldn’t help but return his smile.
“So, what is the Coates curse to you, Mr. Morley?” I asked.
He flapped a meaty hand at me.
“Rudy, call me Rudy,” he swayed on his stool, eying my pretzels.
I obliged by sliding them closer to him.
“Rudy’s seen the curse up close,” Lars said.
The man nodded and pointed at Lars, shaking a thick finger.
“Your pa laughed, boy, laughed when I told him. It’s true though and I’ve not gone back to the Coates house since, believe you me.”
“There’s evil spirits in that house. They infest the very boards in the floor and the brick in the walls,” Rudy said. “They’re like cockroaches, creeping around the baseboards and hiding behind the fridge!”
“That – that doesn’t sound too scary,” I was trying to resist a laugh.
The man grew stern, pointed his finger my way this time.
“Listen here, boy, and listen well. This company of mine, it runs in the family. My pa before me, his pa before him, know what I’m saying?”
“Lars told you about his Nan’s friend? Gertrude? Well, my pa was hired by her brother, the oldest son of the madman who tried to kill her whole family. He hired my pa to paint the outside of the house and it being summer, my pa took me and my brother as well. Wasn’t too bad being outside the house, you understand, the bright sun chases all shadows away. I didn’t see nothing, my brother didn’t see nothing, my pa sure as hell didn’t see nothing either. At least not in the first few weeks. It was only on the last day, was almost done and pa made us work past supper, so we could finish that day. It was also the hottest day that summer, some would call that fate, the way it happened. I was thirsty so I went inside for water, something my pa told me never to do, but I was thirsty.”
I could hear my heart, beating heavy in my chest. My shoulders were tense, almost pulled up to my ears. I forced myself to relax. I tried to focus on the man’s face but found it swimming away from me. I’d definitely had too much to drink.
“The house, I remember it to this day, it finds me in my dreams. It’s alive at night, like a mountain cat or bat, so I was lucky. That evening, it was only just waking up. I went in through the front door, the silence was like being in an empty church. The time it took me to walk from the front of the house to the back, where the kitchen was, felt like an eternity in Hell.”
Rudy coughed into a handkerchief he’d pulled from his back pocket. The raspy barks sounded wet, deep, and heavy. I felt my upper lip twist a bit in revulsion. He managed to quell the fit and wiped his wet lips, tucking the handkerchief back into the same pocket.
“It were the shadows I noticed first. They were all the wrong shapes and going in the wrong directions. Worse was that they moved. In the corner of my eyes, I saw the shadows moving, following me as I walked down the hall. I wanted to go back, but I also didn’t want to seem chicken in front of my kid brother. I’m sure you understand that, eh boy?”
I nodded along. I was an only child. I had no idea what it was like to have siblings.
“Then I noticed the smell. Like rotting vegetables in the cellar under my home. It started faint at first, then fell on strong, like a hammer. Stunk like the house itself had died and was blistering in the sun like one of them beached whales.”
Our tree has been rotting.
“Only a couple feet in, I heard a sound behind me. Like nails scraping along the wood floor. The quiet step of something heavy being careful, trying to stalk its victim. I gave up being brave when I felt its breath on my neck. I ran to the kitchen and climbed out one of the windows. I can still remember what it whispered to me,” Rudy stared down into his empty beer glass, eyes distant, mouth down-turned.
The silence dragged on. Lars and I stared at Rudy. The bartender looked concerned, polishing the same glass without pause for the whole time Rudy was talking. I’d thought he would have heard this story before, but it looked like he was hearing it for the first time.
The curiosity burned me like acid.
“What did it say?” I asked.
The man jerked, coming out of a stupor. He turned to me, his thick brows hanging heavy over troubled blue eyes.
“‘Blood demands blood,’” he said.