The striking of our grandfather clock woke me from a deep, bottomless sleep. The sky outside the lone window was still a dark gray, lightened ever-so-slightly by the threat of the dawn. I stretched my arms above my head and rolled my eyes, attempting to shake off my slumber.
My heart thudded in my chest.
I was alone, and on the opposite side of the parlor from my sister.
All of the candles were out.
How did I get here? The pile of books we had been reading lay a good seven feet from where I sat.
Jessamine was in the far corner, asleep and on her back.
I felt a tug at my ankle and stifled a yelp. I instinctively recoiled. In the dark, I couldn’t see what had gained purchase of the bottom half of my nightgown.
There followed the sounds of hurried clacking, as if a pair of rocks had skipped across the wood floor.
Despite my inability to see it, I knew it had to be in the room with us. It must have waited until Jessamine fell asleep, then separated us so it could do its dirty deed.
“Jessamine,” I hissed, wanting to wake her, yet terrified of alerting the ghoul, lest I become its latest morsel.
There was no answer.
Willing my legs to stand, I inched my way upwards, using the bookcase shelves to hoist myself up inch by inch.
I heard a tearing sound, followed by something far worse.
The smacking sounds of mastication, broken by eager, glutinous breaths, filled the parlor.
“Jesssamine!” I shouted.
Still no reply.
I needed light. It was impossible to face the ghoul in the dark. My spirit wavered between bravery and death by panic. I fumbled around the desk until I found the matches.
I struck one against the desk. It sputtered for a moment, then fizzled out.
The sounds in the corner stopped.
I could feel the ghoul’s penetrating gaze cut through the dark.
I grabbed another match, and with unsure hands, tried again.
The match stick broke in half, falling to the floor.
Clack, clack, clack, clack.
Those odd footsteps again.
Now a gurgling sound, a bubbling death rattle of a cry.
“Please, dear God, help,” I whimpered as I reached to pick out another match.
My cry was answered, as my thumbnail flicked across the match head, a brilliant flame roared to life.
And in that same instant, I wished I’d never brought light into the parlor.
My doll, my porcelain companion, stood on two small legs, leering at me. Its face had turned a mottled green, and bloody teeth sprouted from a mouth that was never designed to open. Weeping warts covered it from head to toe.
Worst of all, a strip of flesh, Jessamine’s flesh, hung loosely from its mouth.
I yelled in horror upon seeing my sister’s exposed throat. She lay, still as death, as her blood pumped onto the floor.
The demonic ghoul had truly left my poor, dear sister.
But it hadn’t gone to hell.
It had made a vile home within Lucy.
The ghoul clenched and unclenched its gnarled hands and slurped up the shredded flap of Jessamine’s throat.
I don’t know what overcame me then. I had been living for half a year under the specter of Satan and his damned minion. Fear, as much as Lucy, had been my constant companion.
There was no longer room for fear. This abomination had destroyed my family, and I knew at that moment that I would never again be the same. My heart turned cold while my temper flared like the center of a great bonfire.
Snarling like a mad person, I grabbed the candle and leapt for the ghoul. Cackling, it tried to sidestep from me, but I snared one of its slimy legs.
Warts burst open like blossoming flowers and a vile, hot fluid leaked onto my hand, burning my skin.
Still, I held on.
It shrieked. It hissed. It chomped its jaws and just missed snagging its teeth into the back of my hand.
With a flick of my wrist, I managed to get it to flop on its back.
Lucy’s blue eyes had been replaced by obsidian pools of hate. I moved my hand that held the candle onto its throat. Once I had a firm grip, I transferred the candle to my other hand.
“This time, go back to hell where you belong!” I shouted.
I brought the flames tips to its eye and heard a satisfying sizzle as the onyx orb melted. I moved the candle to its other eye and didn’t stop until both eyes were gone.
Suddenly, the ghoul’s protests and flailing stopped. Its tiny body twitched once, and was still.
Reluctantly, I let it go so I could rub the burned skin on my hand. The ghoul was dead.
Keeping a close eye on it, I walked on unsteady legs to my sister. Her face looked so peaceful, as if she had died in the midst of the most wonderful dream.
The tears came in a torrent, and I held her head in my lap, ever watchful for signs of the ghoul’s return.
I stayed there in the corner with Jessamine’s cooling body for two days.
When father returned, I was too weak to run into his arms.
His face was aghast.
“What…what…what?” he stammered.
“It was the demon in Jessamine. It became a ghoul. When it left Jessamine, it hid inside Lucy. You can see it, right there!” I screamed, pointing at its lifeless body.
But when Father picked it up, he held only my Lucy, her little head fractured but still the Lucy I’d always known. Her eyes were tiny points of ash, but Jessamine’s blood had somehow been cleansed from her porcelain face.
Despite my anguish and exhaustion and vexation, I began to laugh.
I laughed while my father pulled me away, and in his carriage, all the way into town. I laughed when he brought me to hospital, and even when they carried me to a room that smelled funny and was so bright, it felt like I had been thrown into the center of the sun.
And I still laugh now, ten years later.
They think I did it.
Esther passed on from infection.
Jessamine perished from her wound at the ghoul’s hand.
Mother never regained her sanity. In fact, she’s in a room not very far from my own. I pass her in the yard sometimes. She spits curses at me and blames me for the evil that befell our family.
Only I know it was the ghoul; the demon that slipped into our Old Manse and within my departed sister, the dearest person in my life. And when it tired of a human host, it found Lucy.
I tell everyone but no one will believe me.
Evil is real.
The ghoul was real.
And Lucy is still somewhere, outside these four walls. If you see a doll with burned eyes, run. Run and pray your soul hasn’t been tainted.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2012 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.