The old Hall farmhouse rambled more than any other that Doctor James Miller had ever seen. For decades the home had stood empty, tucked into the center of a property only a little smaller than Duncan Blood’s. Like Blood’s land the old Hall Farm held an apple orchard, fields, and trees, yet all of it had run wild with the death of the last Hall during the Second World War.
And it had taken nearly eighty-five years of litigation for the Cross Historical Society to acquire the property.
But they had, and now James, with some of his archeology students from State, stood in front of the ancient farmhouse. The city engineer had passed the structure as sound, and James and his students were giving their assistance to the historical society. The experience would be excellent for his students, and James had wanted to investigate the house ever since he had learned of it as a young graduate student.
Out of all of the archeologically rich places in Cross only the Hall and Blood Farms had been inaccessible to him since he had obtained his doctorate years earlier.
“Jane,” James said. The young woman looked up from the side of the van.
“Make sure everyone has a respirator for the initial walkthrough, please?”
“Yes,” she said and walked to the back of the van.
The noise of an engine and the sound of tires on the gravel driveway caused James to turn around.
Duncan Blood’s old and familiar pick-up truck pulled in beside the van and came to a stop. The engine turned off, and Duncan stepped out. The man’s clothes were faded, well-worn and near threadbare in places. In spite of the bitter chill of the season, Duncan didn’t wear a jacket, his breath heavy in the air as he closed the truck’s door and walked to James.
“Duncan,” James said stiffly, nodding to the old farmer. Duncan had fought the opening of the Hall Farm for too many years for James to feel any real pleasure at seeing the man.
“Doctor,” Duncan said politely. He looked grimly around the gathered students. “I’ll be coming in with you.”
“What?” James asked sharply.
“Didn’t anyone tell you,” Duncan began, but he stopped as James’ cell phone rang.
Pulling the phone out of his breast pocket James said, “Hello?”
“Yes,” James said cautiously.
“It’s Dean Roy, head of the Cross Historical Society.”
“Ah,” James said, “what can I do for you, Mr. Roy?”
“I wanted to let you know that Duncan Blood will be entering the Hall Farm with you,” Dean said, clearing his throat. “There may be a problem there that Mr. Blood will be the best to handle.”
James shook his head, confused. “Sir, I don’t understand.”
“You wouldn’t believe it if you were told,” Dean said in a strained voice. “I’m still not sure that I do.”
“What are you talking about, Mr. Roy?” James asked.
“Nothing,” Dean said, sighing, “just make sure that Duncan is with you. And tell him I said good luck.”
The call ended and James took the phone away from his ear, looking at it in disbelief. He blinked, turned to Duncan and said, “Mr. Roy says good luck?”
Jane walked up, handed a mask to James and asked, “Should I get another?”
James turned to Duncan.
Duncan shook his head. “I won’t need one.”
“The level of dust, not to mention the possibility of asbestos, is high,” James said.
“That won’t bother me,” Duncan said.
James sighed, waving Jane away.
“Doctor,” Duncan said after the young woman had left them alone.
“Yes?” James asked, checking the straps of the mask.
“You’ll want to make sure that it’s just the two of us who go in first.”
James looked up from the mask. “What?”
“Just the two of us.”
“But why?” James asked.
“You’ll see,” Duncan said. “I hope that I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am.”
Duncan shook his head. “No. It’ll be best if we go in alone.”
James opened his mouth to protest but closed it as he looked at Duncan.
“Alright,” James said after a moment, nodding. He turned to his gathered students and smiled, saying, “Everyone, listen up, please.”
The students quieted down and made their way over to where he stood. When they had all gathered, looking at him expectantly, James spoke.
“Mr. Blood and I are going to enter the Hall House first,” James said, wincing inwardly at the disappointed expressions that appeared on the students’ faces.
“It’s alright,” he said gently, smiling at Jane. “This is simply to make sure that it’s safe. I really couldn’t bear the thought of any of you getting hurt because I was too eager to take the necessary precautions.”
A few of the students, including Jane, grumbled, but the rest nodded their heads. James understood their disappointment, but another glance at the look on Duncan’s face stiffened his resolve.
“We’ll be back shortly,” Duncan said, addressing the students for the first time. All of them went quiet as his deep voice reverberated off of the tree-lined driveway. Turning to James, Duncan asked, “Ready, Doctor?”
James could only nod.
Duncan began to walk towards the house, the students stepping aside for him. James followed the older man’s brisk pace. Within a few minutes the old wooden stairs and porch of the Hall House rang out with the sound of their footsteps. Duncan paused at the heavy front door for James to put his mask on. James took a few cautious breaths before nodding to Duncan.
Silently Duncan reached out, grasped the latch and pushed the door open.
The hinges squealed and the foyer of the great house was revealed. Dust covered everything and hung suspended in the still air. James felt that he was looking at the world through a thin layer of gauze. In the dust upon the wide floor boards, he saw the footprints of the building inspector as well as the tracks of mice and squirrels.
“This way, Doctor,” Duncan said, turning towards what James knew was the library. And although the room was open, there was no sign of dust anywhere.
Not a single, solitary speck.
Duncan walked in, and James followed. As the old man walked towards the hearth on the far wall, James paused to look at the shelves, which were lined with hundreds of books and military antiques that pre-dated the First World War. James glanced at Duncan. The older man stood before a narrow bookcase which flanked the left side of the hearth.
“Duncan,” James said, his voice slightly muffled. “Shouldn’t we inspect the rest of the house so I can get my students in here?”
“No,” the man said. “What we want is here.”
James watched as Duncan reached out and touched something on the bookcase. A soft click sounded and the bookcase swung inward silently, revealing a narrow staircase. It went up several steps before turning sharply to the right, behind the hearth.
James shook his head, pulled the mask off and asked, “How did you know that was there? That’s not on any of the blueprints!”
“Of course it’s not,” Duncan said, smiling grimly. “And as for how I know, I helped to build it. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“What? No,” James said, shaking his head and setting the mask on the floor. “No. I am coming with you.”
Duncan shrugged. “If you must. Just don’t touch anything, Doctor. I don’t think Isaac had finished before he died.”
“Finished what?” James asked.
Duncan shook his head and started up the dark stairs. James hurried after him. The stairs creaked beneath their feet, and James kept his hands on the walls, the stairwell constantly turning to the right in its ascent. Soon Duncan came to a stop, James nearly running into him. A sharp click sounded, and a dim light pierced the darkness of the stairs. Duncan stepped into a small room, and James followed.
They were, as far as James could tell, in the attic, but there was no other door leading into the room. Light came from a small window in the roof, close to the chimney. Like the library, there was no dust. Off to the left, near the slope of the roof, was a small, rough table. Upon it stood a small flask, a large Bible, and an ornate crucifix. On James’ right was the chimney, a set of heavy, iron chains running through an eyelet set deep within the bricks before disappearing beneath an ancient, balled up quilt on the floor.
The quilt was a marvel of intricate religious images, and it looked remarkably well preserved as if it had only been finished a few hours before.
Duncan walked to the table. James took a step into the room and bent down to examine the stitching on the quilt. Pulling a pair of cotton gloves from his breast pocket James put them on, reached forward and picked up the quilt.
James felt himself thrown backward into the wall, the air rushing out of him. As he gasped for breath a shape stood up, the chains rattling. An emaciated woman, eyes long ago clawed out, and wearing a tattered print dress, shifted her weight from one foot to the next. She stared sightlessly at James, nostrils flaring, asking him something in Latin which he could not understand.
But Duncan answered in kind and the woman’s head snapped towards him, snarling.
James looked as well, seeing that Duncan was rolling up his sleeves.
The man’s forearms were heavily scarred, the skin pale from the wrist to where the arm met the sleeve.
The woman spat out something in Latin, her dirty blonde hair shaking as her movements became violent, wrenching at her chains. The skin around the manacles tore with the sound of old cloth, and James heard at least one bone break as she lunged at Duncan.
The old man picked up the flask from the table, opened it and splashed the contents upon her.
Outraged she screamed, the skin of her face smoking. Duncan spoke in a calm firm voice, each word spoken precisely as he took up the crucifix as well. He splashed her again, and she stumbled back, falling to her knees. Duncan stepped forward, and she tried to crawl away from him, but the chains kept her close. With each splash, more smoke rose up, her hair falling out.
She turned and faced James.
“Please,” she begged suddenly in English, “please, sir, help me!”
James opened his mouth, but he couldn’t say anything.
Duncan splashed her again, and she turned her ravaged eyes upon him, screaming out obscenities. Placing the crucifix upon the top of the woman’s head Duncan whispered in Latin.
She screamed, a terrible, piercing sound. It forced James to clap his hands over his ears. Horrified, James watched as her head burst into blue flames, her body writhing beneath Duncan’s hands. The older man pushed her to the floor.
The flames quickly consumed her, flickering around Duncan but inexplicably leaving him alone.
The room was filled with the sounds of her screams and she thrashed about on the floor.
And then it was done.
Duncan straightened up. He capped the flask and returned it and the crucifix to the table.
James lowered his hands from his ears, his heart thundering in his chest. All that remained of the woman was the old print dress and the quilt.
Duncan looked over to James.
“Are you alright, Doctor?” he asked.
“Good. Shall we examine the rest of the house?”
James nodded again, shook his head and asked, “What?”
“That?” Duncan asked, motioning to the dress.
“Demon. Isaac was going to try and finish her before he shipped out. Looks like he was holding onto her for more information, though.” Duncan shook his head and walked to the door. Looking down at James he asked, “Sure you’re ready?”
“Yes,” James muttered, climbing to his feet, his head swimming with confusion.
“Good,” Duncan said, starting down the stairs. “And Doctor?”
“Yes,” James said, glancing back at the dress.
“When I say don’t touch anything, I mean it.”