12th September 1873
Today, three hundred and ninety four years after Catherine’s death, Sebastian bathes Evie and dresses her. She is a doll in his hands, a human-sized doll, unresisting and pliant. He feeds her breakfast at the parlour table, talking inane chatter at her as though the previous night never happened. When she turns her face to the window she can see the park. The park where we met and loved and were happy together. A tear slips from the corner of her eye. Sebastian dabs at it with a pocket handkerchief.
“What’s the matter my love?” he asks.
She does not answer at first, but her heart fears the worst and she has to know.
“Where is he?”
Sebastian asks gently, feigning ignorance and clearing the china onto a silver tray.
His jaw clenches, the muscles in his cheeks and neck bulge with the effort of restraint.
“Have you killed him?”
His anger bursts and the tray and its contents are thrown across the room. The china shatters into pieces. Evelyn jumps, stiff with fear.
“What is it with this Ash fellow? Why do you persist in torturing us with his memory? He has gone, Evelyn. He didn’t love you, he never loved you. You should be glad if he were dead.”
He crouches in front of her, gripping her hands between his own.
“You’re hurting me,” she whispers.
He slackens his grip, but she hasn’t finished with him yet.
“And you haven’t answered my question.”
Rising, he grabs a handful of her hair and yanks her from the chair onto her knees, dragging her painfully across the floor. The fragments of china tear through her dress and into her knees. He ignores her screams as he pulls her along the hallway and up the stairs to her room, where he sends her sprawling face down on the floor.
“Not yet,” is his growled answer, then he pulls the door shut and locks it.
Evelyn flings herself at it, banging her fists uselessly on the wood until her hands are bruised and sore. He slumps on the other side, listening to her racking sobs until she falls into an exhausted sleep. When she awakens he has left a tray of sandwiches for her and some wine. She touches neither.
At night he lets himself into her room and the nightmare begins all over again. She lies as still as possible until he has satisfied himself, lying awake while he sleeps next to her, his arm a dead weight across her waist, preventing her escape.
And me? He leaves me to rot in the attic, knowing I cannot escape, waiting, binding his time until Evelyn’s spirit is completely broken and she is too mad to do anything other than what he asks of her.
19th September 1873
In the end, when all trust is gone and the only bond left unbroken is the one of true love between Evie and myself, he can take no more. Her question has become a mantra, she asks it every day.
“Where is Ash?”
She repeats it under her breath until he is driven to distraction by it and can wait no longer.
He stands in her doorway, watching her brush her now dull and lifeless hair, the question spoken with every stroke of the brush. He takes two long strides into the room and is by her side. His hand grasps her bone-thin wrist, his fingers overlapping further than they would have no more than a week ago, and pulls her emaciated and weakened body upright.
“You want to see your lover?” he taunts.
She turns vacant eyes on him, but a spark of life still burns hidden deep within her. It only serves to anger him further.
She follows him, stumbling at the pace he expects her to keep and begins the climb to the door at the top of the attic steps. He teases her, waving the key in front of her face, but she has no energy to take it from him and he thrusts it into the keyhole himself, turning it with a flourish, a sneer across his face. He turns the knob and pushes open the door. Her eyes peer into the dark and then look back at him for reassurance that this is not some further cruel trick with which he intends to torture her.
“Go on,” he says, “Go be reunited with your – beloved.”
He has learnt from her incoherent dream babbling that this is my name for her and something stirs behind her eyes. She takes a tentative step over the threshold, waits to see what the consequences are and when nothing happens, takes another and another. He follows her in, crossing the wooden floor quickly and lighting an oil lamp on the desk where he keeps the book and dagger.
Immediately, I am revealed to her. My shadow, thrown up behind me by the flickering flame, moves as if with a life of its own and she cowers down, her arms over her face. When she peeps out and sees how I am chained, stripped naked and covered in long deep cuts that never heal, thanks to the properties of the metal that holds me captive, she gasps.
She stands and tiptoes towards me, her fingers stretch out to touch my face.
“Where is Ash?” she says.
“I’m here, beloved,” I reply, tears escaping from my eyes, unbidden.
A small sigh escapes her lips.
“Oh stop!” he sneers. “You were never there for her. All your sweet endearments were made under false pretences. Why don’t you show her what you really are?”
Evelyn’s eyes flick from one to the other of us. A frown creases her brow.
“DO IT,” he yells and in a flash the attic is filled with enormous black wings that reach from rafter to rafter.
Evelyn falls to her knees, her hands fly trembling to her mouth, tears make two rivers down her cheeks. Sebastian laughs at her.
“Well, now we’ve had the touching reunion,” his voice booms. “What say we get down to the real reason we’re all here?”
My stomach lurches. With Evie in this condition I know she is not capable of freeing us, but she may well be capable of damning me to Hell. I try to soothe her with my aura, but I am too weak to reach her and all I can do is pray as Sebastian begins chanting the ritual, drawing sigils around us in the air with the dagger and sealing us in a circle of his own blood. All the while Evie and I stand face to face. Our eyes locked on each other.
Sebastian thrusts the knife towards her.
“Kill him, Evelyn. All you have to do is plunge it into his heart and this will be over forever.”
She stares at the weapon in his hand and slowly takes it from him. Closing the short gap between us, she places the point of the dagger against my heart. I hold my breath, this is her choice, her own free will. If only Sebastian could be stopped from chanting the ritual. Her other hand caresses my cheek and I lean into it, savouring the last moment of tenderness between us. She reaches up on tiptoe, brushes my lips with her own and whispers in my ear.
“You could have told me the truth, beloved. It would have made no difference to the way I feel about you.”
We both close our eyes. I feel the point of the dagger leave my skin as she raises it above her head, preparing to kill me. I wait for it to fall against my chest, Sebastian’s chanting a continuous drone in the background. I wait, but the end never comes.
All I hear is the soft thump of Evie’s body as it falls to the floor and then Sebastian screaming. My eyes fly open and there is Evelyn. Dead by her own hand, the dagger plunged deep into her heart. With Evie gone the curse is broken for another lifetime. The shackles at my wrists fall open and I am free. For a moment I am frozen in place and then I flee, leaving Sebastian with Evie’s crumpled body.
* * *
When I return to the house later, I find that Sebastian has put Evie to bed. He is lying next to her, his wrists cut, the bed beneath them soaked in their mingling blood. Once again the book and dagger have vanished, another cycle is complete and another awaits beginning.
* * *
The words had blurred through Kate’s tears, but she couldn’t bring herself to hate Sebastian. His actions, disgusting as they were, had been born from his sense of duty towards caring for her after their parents had died and his love for her as her brother. It wasn’t his fault that the book and dagger had corrupted him so completely. Kate felt desperately sorry for them all, but most of all for Ash. He was the one burdened with guilt for all of it.
She went to find him. He had his back to her, still poring over her notes on the family tree. Kate could feel the tension in his muscles as she laid her hand on his shoulder. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and cleared his throat before speaking, then he retrieved a sheet of paper from beneath the others spread out in front of him and stabbed his finger at the name of her client’s four times great, grand-father.
“They share an ancestor in common,” he said, his eyes still cast down. “You haven’t filled out this branch yet.”
He picked up a pencil and wrote in the next two lines of the tree.
“I think you’ll find that he and his wife have two children with whom the line dies out. Evelyn,” he said. His voice lowered as he added, “and her brother.”