Chapter 2 - The Journal

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Image by Dan Meyers from Unsplash

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A shiver travelled down my spine as we sat in the SUV outside the woman's cabin-like home. Its boarded-up windows, lifting shingles, and gargoyle fountain competed with our house for freaky vibes. How long had those boards been in place? It had to be at least a few weeks, but Mike and I had seen her since they went up.

Mike's grip on the wheel tightened. "Do you think she's gone for good? No one in their right mind boards-up windows unless they're leaving."

I tensed. The summer I was six, my mother had nailed two-by-fours outside our windows then covered the glass inside with blood from a chicken she'd decapitated in the yard. I could still hear its frantic shrieks as she brandished the knife. My father had been furious, muttering about superstitious nonsense, and moved us to the city so my aunt could watch me when he worked instead of Mom.

Milo's sharp nails dug into my jeans, returning me to the boarded-up cottage. I shook away my unease. Just an overreaction. No need to stir up the past. During my runs, I'd occasionally find Mrs. Crawford muttering to herself in the front garden without another soul around. She was odd but more likely to wear a tinfoil hat and rant about alien-mind control than practice magic. I stroked the cat's orange fur, still not free of burs despite our efforts, but he wouldn't retract those claws.

Mike took my hand. "You sure you want to do this? She didn't answer her phone. I hear the statue scared her out of town. We could give the cat to someone who'd care for it."

Milo yowled and pawed at the door. I shook my head, squeezed Mike's hand, then let go. "It won't take long."

I clutched Milo with one arm and reached for the handle. As a vigorous burst of wind flung the door open, the cat evaded my grasp. He darted toward the house as I struggled to close the door.

Mike pressed his lips together and shook his head. "I have a bad feeling about this. You shouldn't mess with places that statue has been."

He had a point, but I had to at least try to return him. She'd had him for years. If Mrs. Crawford was there and losing her mind, we should get her help. My father would have done the same and had tried for my mother. If I had been stronger back then, perhaps it would have worked. 

"You're surrounded by death at the care home and conditioned to expect the worst."

He sighed. "Five minutes, then we're leaving."

I chuckled. "Yes, boss."

The gravel on the driveway crunched beneath my feet as I approached the front porch. Weeds and wildflowers grew as high as my knees, tangled in a way that rendered their stems and leaves indistinguishable. A foul stench lingered, maybe a rotting carcass or unhealthy compost pile. As a strong wind rushed down the mountain, the trees groaned and creaked. A slightly less overgrown section led to the porch, whose steps leaned to the left. One snapped under my weight, so I took a long stride to the porch-level. 

There were no signs of the rumoured statue. Some boards over the windows hung crookedly while others had loosened from their nails. It appeared Mrs. Crawford didn't have the strength to hammer them in fully. 

My mother's high-pitched voice echoed, "Harder, hit them all the way in, Winnie, or it'll get in. It'll get in!"

I shook my head. Regular newspaper peeked through the cracks of Mrs. Crawford's windows. I exhaled, tension leaving my shoulders. I knocked loudly. 

"Mrs. Crawford?" 

The strong gales made the walls moan and shift. I rapped on the door harder. 

"Are you alright, Mrs. Crawford? It's Winston from down the road. My husband and I found Milo last night and wanted to return him."

The howling winds and the groaning wood beneath my shuffling feet were the only response. I knocked again before trying the brass door handle. The metal was cool to the touch but turned when I tried it. I looked back at Mike, whose eyes were on me, and gestured I was going inside. He watched me with wide eyes and pointed to his watch. 

Behind the door sat a lumpy couch and a table covered in newspaper. The walls were also plastered with printed pages featuring colourful circles around different sections. The words 'haunting', 'disappearance', and 'lunar cycle' jumped out at me.  What was going on in that woman's head?

"Mrs. Crawford, are you okay? Can Mike and I help you? Do you need any groceries or medical attention?"

The buzzing of flies and the odour of rotting meat hit me, and I cringed. I shoved off the memories of my mother with a carcass in hand the second they materialized. 

"Please just be meat," I muttered to myself.

On the floor lay a shattered plate and pieces of steak and potatoes. Why hadn't Milo eaten it earlier, and where was that cat?

"Mrs. Crawford? Milo?"

Near the shards of porcelain lay a bloody fingernail that made my skin crawl with the feet of a thousand ants. Scratch marks and traces of red decorated the counter. Had something attacked her? If it was an animal, why would it leave the food? I scratched my head. Perhaps I was losing my mind like my mother. No, that was impossible. I took impeccable care of myself. 

I checked the washroom which seemed fine aside from the olive tiling and knitted toilet cozy that would make Mike cringe. The bedrooms were also empty, though there were piles of books on mythology, paranormal activity, exorcisms, and a worn leather-bound journal. I called Mrs. Crawford's name once more before cracking the diary open.

The woman had chicken-scratch handwriting, but so did my husband, so I could decipher hers. I turned the pages with trembling fingers. The most recent entry in her journal was dated two weeks prior, around when townspeople had last seen her.

Their whispers kept me up all night, plotting to rip me limb from limb like Tony did to my dolls years ago when I was a girl. Their high-pitched laughs and pitter-pattering feet plague me at all hours. Tony wants to put me in a home, but he doesn't understand. They'll follow me wherever I go. I've found a solution if I survive until the full moon.

Below the writing was a sketch of a circular podium that resembled a sundial. The small words at the different points were too tiny to read. Was it part of some ritual? The full moon was tonight.

A loud crash reverberated from behind the house. The floor and walls shook. I ran outside, journal in hand. At the base of the porch stairs, I nearly tripped on Milo. His emerald glare was stern. He meowed. Led me to a path in the backyard that dipped. The putrid scent grew worse. Endless forest walls surrounded me. To my right, an immense tree had collapsed, flattening a wooden shed. My heart stilled. Just nature at work.

Behind the wreckage, a pale arm stuck out. I drew in a shaky breath, the odour materializing into a retch-inducing taste. After swallowing bile, I crept over. The tree had missed the body of an elderly woman by less than a foot. She had snow-white curls and bottle glasses that had somehow cracked. 

I froze. 

The front of her pink nightgown was crusted in dried blood. Maggots and insects swarmed from a rotting hole in her chest, almost like someone had reached inside to claw out her heart.

My head spun. My stomach twisted. I ran to puke further from the rotten stench of the body. Footsteps echoed on gravel and swished through the grass. I stood too shocked to move until a hand grasped my shoulder.

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