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Sunday 13 August 2023

Accursed Weststead Manor

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

    There's no time to get help. I can't let her follow me, she has to be kept away from town. So, to whomever finds this, here written is the account of the events leading to the death of my wife, Isabelle, and, almost as certainly, myself.

    It started with strange noises in the night. Isabelle began to gargle in her sleep. I thought nothing more of it than the flu, so I rolled her onto her side and it seemed to fix the problem.
    This was my first mistake.
    Six nights this went on, though she showed no signs of illness through the day. But the gargling soon worsened, and then came the night fits. I soothed her as best I could, I hid it from the children, and I quickly called the doctor. The "Change", he'd said. He'd given me an elixir and she drank it every night. We expected it to subdue the symptoms, give her better rest, but the fits only became more violent. She began waking up bruised. Before long, Doctor Yves recommended strapping her to the bed for her own safety. I did this, despite her growing terror. But I...I couldn't bear it. I slept in the guest chamber.
    That was my second mistake.
    On the thirteenth night, after too much ale, the shaking stopped, then I heard a thump in her room. I hurried in and found what I thought was her sitting upon the bed, spine bent backwards, a smoking black hand reaching out from her gaping mouth.
    Too much ale. A fever dream I hadn't fully withdrawn from; my worries manifested with too much fuel. I went back to bed with a headache.
    The hounds On the nineteenth morning, the hounds didn't howl with the roosters. They didn't howl with the bells. They didn't come when the children called, nor when they cried at a game gone wrong. My dear Isabelle, growing pale and drawn, suggested they were ill, but I was too busy to check on them until their feeding. That evening, I found them in pieces in the kennels, limbs and innards thrown around, their heads bitten through as if their skulls were butter. What creature could have done it? I might have wondered, but how could I have known? How could anyone?
    From that moment on, we didn't feel safe. This manor is far from town, and the forest surrounding it is thick. Anything could have been lurking. Truly anything, if the old stories had any truth to them.
    So I put signs up in town, looking for a hunter or someone who could help identify and kill it. A few came; some said wargs, others basilisks. But none would go into the woods to search. We increased the payment, but still, no one.
    So we locked the doors and barred the windows. The children were terrified. So was Isabelle, whose fits had finally ceased, though she had returned to scratching at her shoulders, opening up old scars. A sign of anxiety, but nothing more. Though still pale, her health was improving and my concern passing, so I was better able to swallow my own fear and put on a brave face. Such is the job of husband and father, after all.
    From that night on, though, I barely slept. I kept watch, moving from window to window with my crossbow, staring into the dark while my family rested uneasily. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. For a week I maintained vigil and, slowly, I began to ease. We all did. There was nothing out there anymore.

    I have made mistakes. I let things slip by, brushed them off as my imagination, a bad dream.
    There was nothing out there, because it was already inside with us. Everything that happened since the massacre of the hounds is my fault.
    I didn't hear anything at night, but I felt – felt often, I now realise - something moving around. A shifting presence through the bedroom. But I was never awake enough to take notice. I let it pass, another figment of my imagination. But I did hear Isabelle's occasional mutter to herself in her sleep about a scratching sound. And, with that, I'd listened more intently, wondering if she had located something that I hadn't...but strain as I might, there was no scratching. Nothing. Yet every night, every night, she would mutter. Then the muttering rose to speaking. Then to screaming.
    But still, there was nothing but her voice.
    I called the doctor back in. It went beyond the women's Change. "Touched," he concluded, although he didn't seem too convinced of it himself. A worst-case scenario, but one that, if handled immediately, may never have come to pass. So I did as he told me, keeping her in the sun all day, and the bedroom as black as possible at night. But her screaming continued.

    I know now. Not everything - not even enough - but I know this is something beyond the reach of medicine. A priest would be better suited, but after the unholy massacre at Rolinghan, there are none to spare. They are all either dead or dying.
    There is something in her. A madness manifested, a creature, a beast - something living inside her. And I have now, to my shame and horror, witnessed it come out.
    I doubt I'm making much sense, and I realise I've spent too long on this already.
    The day of the hounds, she had scratches around her arms. Old scars on her shoulders had opened up and bled. I presume there was blood elsewhere but I hadn't noticed it at the time.
    The night the windows shattered in our bedroom, she had been covered in blood and scratches. I hadn't pieced together how she could have gotten them unless she had been standing beside the window when it broke - and how it had broken, I hadn't worked out either. It made no sense unless she had done it herself, but she barely had the strength to stand.
    The same with the damage to the walls. The damage to the fireplace that she had somehow extinguished with her bare hands. Things of which I had witnessed nothing except the final result.
    The hunters dead in the yard, those few who had come back with a second thought over the reward. The doctor, who never made it to our last appointment, nor further than twelve paces through the gate.
    And the children...the children...
    I buried them this morning, what parts I could find. But I spared no words. There was no time. I would be tormented by that for the rest of my life if I thought I would survive more than two more days. But I am being hunted. Not by Isabelle - this isn't my Isabelle. I don't recognise her anymore, and I don't believe she recognises me either. Whatever little of her remains shows no sign. Only the beast breathes now, sees through her eyes, smells through her nose, hears through her ears. And as long as I am out of sight and tread lightly, it doesn't seem to know where I am.
    So I steal time, and I prepare.
    These deaths are my fault. I didn't trust the signs; I shrugged them off as dreams, but whether they come truly from a demon, a curse, a malignance of one kind or another...that, I will never know.
    I have to make things right. I have to correct my negligence. For her. For the children. For my family.

    Should I fail and the beast walks still, then to whomever finds this account, take heed: she it has an aversion to willow and recoils at the scent of the oil, and its wood and iron both leave ferocious burns on her its skin. There may be other weaknesses, but I haven't had the chance to find out, and if I delay any longer then she it will come for me.
    It cannot be allowed to escape. I mustn't lead it away, nor give it any reason to leave. And, I admit, I cling to very small hope that the demon or curse will be destroyed wit

The rest of the vellum is bare, unspoiled; no spilled ink nor blood, no rips or crumples. It sits, silent and unfinished, beside a dried out inkwell. The quill itself is missing. The rest of the house, too, lies still. Deafeningly still.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2023 Kim Wedlock


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