“I don’t have a brother,” I said and pulled my hands from her grasp, afraid that my mother had lost her wits.
“Come inside,” she said and reached for me as she got up from the ground. Her eyes flickered towards the crashed fuselage. “Come inside,” she begged.
“Tell me what happened at the crash site!”
“First come inside, where it is safe.”
A wry laugh escaped my lips as I turned back to the house — and stopped short. The sigils drawn into the wood and stone of the house itself were glowing blue. My mouth fell open.
“Come!” Mother commanded and dragged me inside. With one last look behind me, I stumbled after her, amazed at her strength. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a white figure moving, but, when I turned my head, there was nothing there. Tears pricked at my eyes and blurred my vision.
The inside of the house seemed dark after the bright sunlight outside. It was made even darker by mother pulling the shutters closed, making signs against evil as she went. I stood in the centre of the living area shivering and with the hairs on my arms standing on end.
“Are the ghosts coming for me?” The question just slipped from my mouth before I could bite down on the sour words.
“Ha! They can come all they want!” mother laughed. “You yourself saw that we are safe here inside the house. Inside these walls nothing can harm us.”
“But what about my nightmares?”
“Nothing more than shadows. Come.”
I followed her to the kitchen and the comforting heat of the wood burning stove. I had thought that the heat would be too much today, but not so. I felt cold after what happened outside and sat down cross-legged in front of the stove to warm my hands. Mother sat down on the rocking chair and picked up her knitting. She formed and counted the stitches deftly as she spoke, the yarn weaving forward and backward between the two needles. It was hypnotising watching her.
“I will not wait for your father,” she started. “Though I know he would have preferred it. But he and the other men went to reinforce the sigils around the perimeter of the town.” The needles clacked against each other in a steady rhythm so that my heartbeat slowed and I relaxed as I listened to my mother’s voice and the click-click-click of the wood.
“The plane crashed in the fields eight years ago,” mother said. The ground there was not always as barren. There used to be a wood there… but it burned to ashes that night. It was as if nothing could do anything to stop the flames. So we turned to the town and wet the buildings as best we could and some ended up fleeing… It was a night from hell. Your father wanted to see if there were any survivors he could help… The strange thing, he always said, was that the plane did not burn. Not like you would have thought. Inside the passengers all seemed dead where they sat, but there were no flames inside.” She finished a row and turned her work, starting a new row.
“But the children… the children were fine.” She frowned. Her hands moved faster, the click-click-click speeding up. “I — we had been barren. Most of us in the town had been since the Darkness came to live in the wood. It’s the lines, people whispered. Some of us lived too close to them. Some of us had no choice — we did not have the money to live anywhere else. And we knew not the price we were going to pay.”
“So you took us?” I said.
She paused, nodded. “Your brother was injured. You were identical twins. He did not make it.”
“Where is he now?”
“We buried him beneath the oak tree in the corner of the garden,” mother sobbed. “We could not afford a grave in the graveyard.”
I had never wanted to go to the tree, I realised. It had always felt… strange to me somehow. Yet there was no tombstone, no marker. But that, too, cost money, I guess.
“The — one of the ghosts spoke to me,” I said. “They said that they will be free on the ninth night I visit them.”
“That is the choice we had to make,” Mother said. “Our children or their souls. The Darkness will be unleashed should their souls be set free. You cannot go back.” She sat the knitting down and covered her face with her hands. When she took them away her eyes were filled with tears.
“Forgive me, but I wanted to keep you safe.”
I stood, stepped over to her, and put my arms around her. We cried freely as the sigils glowed blue around us.
“I swear I won’t go back,” I told her. “I swear.”