Authors: Bryant Delafosse
“I love you, Daddy,” she whimpered, gently stroking the pale cheek. “Please tell Mom I love her. I didn’t tell her often enough.”
Tracy’s eyes seemed to search me out and when they found me, the father within stared hard at me for a moment then seemed to relax. “He’s still a boy, Claudie, but he loves you with a man’s heart.”
I released the breath I had been unconsciously holding.
“I’m glad I had the chance to see to you one last time,” he muttered, his voice starting to fade. “I can’t wait to see my Patty again.” A pleasant smirk appeared on her face and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Tracy’s eyes seemed to clear then. Dad went to one knee alongside Uncle Hank, who was hurriedly administering the last rites. She nodded and pushed her leather spirit bag into my uncle’s hand. “Paul’s now,” she said in her own voice now, her expression serious. Then her face softened and she actually smiled. “About that debt I owe you three. We can call it even.”
“God will see you home, my child,” Uncle Hank said, touching her pale face. He clutched Tracy’s hand to his chest. She began to shudder, stiffen, and relax with a single long exhalation.
Claudia turned and buried her face in my chest, sobbing with abandon.
By the time the sun had fully risen, BeBe and Uncle Hank had placed Deputy Nick’s and Tracy’s bodies into the bed of BeBe’s truck, my uncle giving them both final blessings. Graham’s body they tossed unceremoniously down the chimney shaft, pouring a can of gasoline down and setting it afire for good measure.
Dad and I walked the women to the trucks, leaving my uncle and the sheriff behind to make the final preparations. We started down together; Dad, Mom and Courtney Noble in his truck and me and Claudia in my car.
Less than ten minutes later, twin thumps jolted the earth beneath our feet. Some later said that it was felt over twenty miles away. Uncle Hank and BeBe met us twenty minutes later at the bottom of the hill where the fire road cut across open pasture land and finally back to the main road.
Uncle Hank told us that the house’s slab, along with the whole cemetery, had collapsed entirely in on itself, leaving a gaping hole the size of a football field. It was fortunate for both he and BeBe that they had brought enough ignition wire to reach the fire road, because when the charges went off and the dynamite exploded, the hill they had been standing on had all but disappeared from existence.
BeBe told us that Uncle Hank had been adamant about stopping the truck and walking just far enough back up the hill to examine the remains, record some footage on the digital camera Mom had had the presence of mind to bring along, and say a blessing over the ground. Eventually, he would put a copy of that disc in a safety deposit, along with detailed maps. It was a decision he made on his own without any input from the rest of us.
Neither Claudia nor I have been able to view any of the images, though he’s told us that we have an open invitation to see it if we have a need. When I told him that we had no desire to and probably never would, he beamed down at me with a look of pride and squeezed my shoulder the way my own father always does.
A few days after things had settled down, I told my uncle in as much detail as I could what had happened to me just before we left the cavern. I told him about the heavenly creature and about its statement about the apples. He stared past me for a good thirty seconds. “It was her,” he said in hushed awe, then turned aside and removed his glasses, massaging the bridge of his nose to hide the tears in his eyes.
He entrusted the care of his new-found daughter to the Fuseliers, a childless couple he knows and trusts from his parish. They know a version of the truth, one that started with a single mother whose young life was tragically cut short, and ended with Courtney returning to town seeking sanctuary. She’s led a hard life in her fourteen years, he told them, and he refuses to trust her care to a county foster home.
They were happy to oblige.
When Courtney first started asking about the passage of twenty years that she couldn’t account for and why she hadn’t aged, the Fuseliers came to us for answers. We decided against the truth--that for the past twenty years she had been in trapped in a bend in the road of contiguous reality. Instead, we told them that the drugs she had experimented with must have had an effect on her perception of what was real and what was fantasy.
We told Courtney to be patient and that the memories would soon return, but being an apple not far separated from the tree of logic, she never bought that fourteen years of intact memory could explain a twenty year chunk of missing time. In the absence of Tracy--our go-to expert on all things supernatural--we’ve decided that all of us would have to be in on the explanation when the day comes that she is psychologically strong enough to handle the entire truth. Day by day, that time draws closer. Not just because of the speed at which Courtney is healing, but especially since how every day we forget more and more about our time down there in the House.
Once when I asked my new cousin what she remembered, she looked at me with a furrowed brow and asked innocently, “What cavern?”
I’m glad now that I had the presence of mind to write it all down. Even now as I read back over these pages, I feel like I’m reading a work of fiction, written about a character that sounds vaguely like me. Yet, I know it’s all true. Every word.
We had a small ceremony in the Graves family plot for Tracy. Since her mother had died over ten years ago, we were the only family she had left.
My uncle and father her surrogate fathers; me and Claudia, her siblings.
Due to the suspect nature of her identity, the tombstone held no name, only the inscription: “In the end, she saved us all.”
Officially, the Haven County coroner’s office designated her as a “Jane Doe.”
Ironically, the girl who Tracy had pretended to be for the last fifteen years had returned to the role she had created, though now as the young ingénue, twenty years younger than her vitals claimed she should be at thirty-five. Claiming that a mistake had been made in some computer somewhere, Dad was trying to resolve the issue through the proper channels, though obviously it wasn’t going to go away overnight.
In the meantime, Claudia and I relished the fact that my cousin could legally score us alcohol any time we wanted, though, as you might imagine, because of our past experience, neither of us were all that into drinking, especially Jose Cuevo.
My uncle comes by our house more often now, nearly every weekend, sometimes for dinner, but generally just for a casual visit. Sometimes, Courtney and the Fuseliers accompany him, but more often than not, Courtney comes alone. Uncle Hank and Courtney seem to have a rapport that transcends the years they’ve missed sharing together, though with the rest of us, she’s understandably still guarded.
Last Saturday evening, Claudia told me that she saw Courtney clutching my mother in a desperate embrace, crying with abandon. She told me that she wasn’t sure what had prompted it, but that it sounded like “a
Sounds like a chick thing to me.
Now that my father is officially retired again, he has lots of time on his hands. Some mornings he and my uncle will just sit in the garage with their cups of coffee and complain about his Ford.
(The three of us came up with a new one the other day: Driver Returning On Foot. Get it? That’s FORD spelled backwards!)
Though, Dad won’t admit it, he left the cavern that day physically weaker. It took months but Mom and I finally managed to convince him to go see the doctor as he’d promised, and he’s now on heart meds that seem to be working. Still, I find myself unconsciously helping him more and more with the hard labor around the house.
I try not to worry unnecessarily about the man, but having witnessed the specter of death so often in the last month, I find it hard to ignore its inevitable presence. My uncle has taught me that death is a necessary progression of the human journey.
The other day Claudia surprised us by accompanying me and my mother to church, though my father hasn’t yet joined us. One Sunday morning when I intended to come back into the house to grab my forgotten cell phone, I spotted him through the kitchen window, drinking coffee and reading our family Bible, his rarely used reading glasses resting on his nose. I walked back to the car, keeping his secret between us two.
As far as Claudia and I go, we’ve decided to take things slow and build a traditional relationship that includes something other than ritualized murders and haunted caverns. Though we still have the occasional moment when egos clash and tempers explode, my love for her seems only to have grown since that time of friendship bracelets and serial killer school in the bleachers.
The last six months, I’ve seen the best nights of sleep I’ve had since Claudia Anne Wicke returned to Haven in early September, and I haven’t had one dream involving a House Without Doors since we destroyed the cavern.
Though we vowed in November to never keep secrets between the two of us ever again, I believe she’s started to sense that I’ve been hiding something. I figure there’s no sense in alarming her. This is only the second time I had the dream.
It’s the one about the blood red moon.
Bryant Delafosse was born and raised in Southeast Texas. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and holds a degree in Radio/TV/Film. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife, son, and Miniature Schnauzer, Luna.