Now they were there, standing opposite what had once been Evelyn and Sebastian’s house, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea. But if Brian was being held prisoner here and if he was still alive, they had to do whatever they could to save him. She wondered at what point she’d turned into the heroine of the tale, she’d always thought of herself as capable, but with mundane everyday stuff like paying her bills on time and living alone, not kicking in the doors of old houses and rescuing hostages like a T.V. cop.
The house looked like it was ready to collapse; the only thing keeping it upright was the extensive scaffolding hugging the exterior. The roof was full of holes and it was impossible to tell what colour the wooden window frames had been painted, before they’d started to rot away. Security shutters covered the lower windows and of those above, only a few still held unbroken panes of glass.
Kate found it vaguely familiar. She’d started having that déjà-vu feeling the moment the park had come into view. She known it would be this house, even though several others on the same street were abandoned too. Ash saw something entirely different. He could see the building in its present, neglected state, but the ghost of its former splendour shimmered in the air like a double exposure on a photographic film. Every cell in his half-human body screamed at him not to go inside the house, but he had to; for Kate’s sake. For her he would have walked in to Hell, just to see her smile. He had an awful feeling that Hell was going to seem like a walk in the park compared to this and of course, the park behind them was full of ghosts too. He looked over his shoulder and exhaled sharply.
“Are you OK?”
His head whipped round at the touch of Kate’s hand, just in time to catch another face superimposed over hers. He ran shaky fingers through his hair and swallowed.
“Yes, come on, let’s get this over with.”
He marched towards the house. Kate had to jog to keep up with him. When he reached the top of the drive, he didn’t go up to the front door, but continued round the back of the house, dodging the scaffolding and buckets of building debris and waited for Kate to catch up.
“There’s no one here,” he said. “We don’t have to do this.”
“If you’re trying to tell me Brian’s…”
“No, I’m saying the place is empty. Brian’s not here.”
“We’ve come a long way, we might as well go in.”
He had hoped she would reconsider, but she was as stubborn as Isabel.
He raised his eyes to the upstairs windows as though offering up a silent prayer, then he stepped up to the door and placed his hand over the lock. There was a click and when he turned the doorknob, the door swung inwards, revealing the darkened interior. Now he could add breaking and entering to his list of misdemeanours.
He went first, motioning Kate to follow and stay close behind him. She took his hand, with no intention of doing anything but that. The interior of the house was in even worse condition. Doors had fallen off their hinges and in some cases whole cupboards had come loose from the wall, pulling great chunks of plaster with them and exposing the wooden slats beneath. Leaves and other rubbish that had made its way in through the broken windows drifted in piles against the walls. Ash led Kate onwards through the kitchen to the narrow hall. A sliver of light came through the front door transom, but Ash’s vision wasn’t impaired in the same way Kate’s was.
He opened a door to his right and stepped over the threshold into a large, darkened room.
“This was the parlour,” he said. “We took tea by the bay window.”
He turned to Kate with a small weak smile that was wiped from his face when he saw her. Kate’s eyes swept the room, her mouth wide in an expression of awe. She let go of Ash’s hand and began a circuit of the cosy parlour. Her fingers trailed across the high mahogany fireplace, touching the china ornaments of dogs and urns decorated with hand painted flowers. The clock in the centre ticked a slow, dolorous rhythm that would have put her to sleep if she’d sat in the green velvet armchair that stood in the corner by the fireplace. White lace antimacassars were draped over the chair backs and arms and there was a shiny brass coal scuttle filled with irregular black lumps of coal, ready for the long cold Winter evenings.
A matching chair sat opposite the first. On the back wall was an upright piano, on the stand were two sheets of music. Kate stepped forward to see what the tune was, but Ash’s hand tugged at hers and she was back in an empty, dark, musty room with bare floorboards and peeling wallpaper.
“What happened?” she said.
It had seemed like a dream.
“Your memories are surfacing,” he said.
His eyes were wide, the green irises glittering in what little light filtered in through the shutters. Kate realised with a jolt that he was scared. He watched her as though he expected her to fall to pieces at any moment.
“It’s OK, I’m fine,” she said.
He stared at her for a few seconds more then took her hand again and led her back into the hall. At the bottom of the stairs was another door. He hesitated before turning the doorknob, but Kate placed her hand over his and turned it for him. They were no sooner over the threshold than the image changed again.
This time Kate stood in an elegant dining room. The walls were painted a dull dark green and had a white wooden dado rail running round the entire room. The ceiling was white too, but in the centre was an ornate moulded plaster ceiling rose, from which hung a shimmering glass chandelier. It reminded her of the one in her own bedroom and Ash’s words about her living in the past came back to her.
She was prevented from walking across the room by a dining table large enough for eight, but it was only set for two. The china was beautiful, a delicate design of ribbons decorated the edges and the silver cutlery gleamed in the light from above. She didn’t have time to take in any more detail as Ash was gently shaking her back to the 21st century.
“It was beautiful,” she said.
“Try to stay with me,” he pleaded.
They were back at the bottom of the stairs again. For a second Kate could see the red carpet runner and brass grips on each tread, but she screwed her eyes tight shut and opened them again to the bare staircase and broken banister rail. The state of the house made her feel sad. Why would anyone leave it to rot like this? She put her hand on the newel post and took her first step up, but Ash blocked her way. She backed down.
“I’m not so sure it’s a good idea for you to go up there,” he said.
“What? You expect me to stay down here on my own?”
He looked away and sighed.
“OK, but think happy thoughts, OK?”
They climbed the stairs together, taking it slow and testing each tread before committing themselves to what might be a rotten floorboard. Out of the corner of her eye, Kate could see framed black and white photographs on the wall. A middle aged couple in sombre clothes. Again they seemed familiar to her, a boy and a girl, him in a miniature version of an adult’s suit, her in a white dress with a sash and long curls cascading past her shoulders, a little further up a portrait of a beautiful smiling young woman, painted in colour, in oils this time. She stopped, jerking Ash back a step and stared at it.
“Who is she?” she asked, the image so real she assumed Ash could see it as well.
“That’s you,” he said. “When you were Evelyn.”
“So you can see it too?” she asked.
“I see both past and present at the same time.”
She blinked, trying to imagine what that would be like to live with.
“Most times I can tune the past out,” he explained in response to her unasked question. “But not today. Your memory is coming through so strongly it’s superseding my own.”
“Does that mean you can travel in time?”
“In my angelic body I could. In this physical form I can only see the echoes of what once was.”
The stairs spiralled round to the left. At the small landing there should have been an arched stained glass window, but the glass had been smashed long ago by vandals. Only Kate and Ash knew that the design had been a depiction of Summer as a woman in classical drapes holding a fan in her raised right hand.
They reached the top of the stairs and faced another closed door across from the landing. Kate stepped forward, but was stopped in her tracks.
“Don’t,” Ash said.
His eyes pleaded with her.
“I think I have to,” she said.
He nodded and allowed her to move on.
This room had been her own bedroom. She knew what had happened here and was fully prepared for the transformation she was going to experience, or so she thought. One moment she had been clinging to Ash’s hand, the next she was lying in a large bed looking up from sleep at a figure in her doorway.
Oh God, she thought. It’s Sebastian.
She tried to stay calm, to focus through the image on Ash who should have been standing in the very same spot as Sebastian was now. It didn’t work. The image jerked and shifted as though someone had pressed fast forward on a DVD player and then Sebastian was leaning over her. He grabbed her wrists and pushed her backwards into the soft pillows. His mouth pressed against hers and she began to struggle. In her mind, Kate should have been strong enough to fight him off, but in Evelyn’s weakened, poisoned body she could do no more than relive the horror of Evelyn’s rape.
She closed her eyes, sobbing with fear and humiliation and then heard her own name echoing in her mind. What had Ash told her? Think happy thoughts?
She thought of Ash, of the day they had spent at the Festival of Angels, of the blossoming of the cherry tree, of his arms around her and their first kiss and then he was there, shaking her free from the nightmare, bringing her back from Hell.
“Can we get out of here?” she sobbed. “If you’re sure Brian’s not here I want to leave.”
He pulled her into his arms and rocked her, soothing her, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead. He carried her from the room and headed for the stairs.
“You are sure, aren’t you?” she said. “I mean, there’s no way he could hide Brian from you, is there, with some spell or something?”
Ash backed up a step and put her down. She leaned against the wall, her head still spinning.
“I’m going to check the other bedrooms. Don’t move.”
“Don’t leave me,” she cried, reaching for him.
“I’ll be in sight all of the time,” he said, edging backwards, keeping eye contact.
He opened all the doors and peered into the rooms, checking them long enough to make sure Brian wasn’t being held in any of them. Finally, there was only one more place to look. He raised his head to the second flight of stairs.
“Oh no,” Kate moaned.
“You can stay here,” he offered, but she shook her head.
“I’d rather we stayed together.”
He waited, giving her time to change her mind, but she pushed herself away from the wall and made him go first.
This door was smaller than the others and locked. Ash touched his hand to it again and the lock mechanism clicked open. Open or not, it still didn’t budge. It had been closed for so long, through the changing temperatures of over a hundred Summers and Winters, the wood stretching and contracting until it had warped shut permanently. In all probability no one had been through the door since Evelyn had killed herself on the other side of it.
Ash shouldered the door and almost fell into the attic. Kate shivered; it was ice cold up here, strong breezes whistled through the holes in the roof. There were more piles of leaves, birds’ feathers and excrement and even a dead pigeon wriggling with maggots.
Ash stood, his head and shoulders stooping under the eaves and stared at the wooden beams that ran the length of the attic. The shackles were gone, but the wood was worn where he had pulled and chafed at them. At the far end of the attic he could see the desk that Sebastian had used as a makeshift altar. The book and dagger were gone, but the stubs of burned down candles remained, wax solidified into wavy rivulets over the edges of the desk and pooled on the floor.
Kate drifted in behind him. In her mind, she was Evelyn seeing her lover for what he really was for the very first time. She fell to her knees, her eyes covered, quietly chanting a single sentence over and over to herself.