The Curse of Arnford Manorbymythtrav16©
"I'll be with you in a minute, ladies," he assured them in an almost dismissive tone. Demi and Nina both smiled and nodded at the man as he stepped into the office cubicle in the far corner, to tend to some business. "You'll have to forgive me," he remarked as he pencilled some unknown note into a ledger. "Mornings 'round here are always hectic." Once he was finished, he walked over to the two witches with a polite smile.
"Now then, how do you do?" he greeted, his tone of voice already sounded far more refreshed.
"Very well, thank you," Nina responded. Demi nodded in agreement.
"I'm Mr. Nolan, the administrator here at the orphanage. Is there something I can help you with?" he asked.
"We hope so," Demi responded, "We have some questions about the death of the staff member that occurred here recently."
"I'm sorry, but may I ask who you are, exactly?" Mr. Nolan asked, studying the women with suspicious eyes.
"We're... investigators," Nina replied.
"Really? You aren't dressed like police detectives" Nolan rebuked. Ordinarily, the idea of a woman being a criminal investigator would've been laughable to most men. But Nerine had cast a perception spell over Demi and Nina before they left the lodge that morning. Thanks to her magic, the vision of anyone the two witches interacted with would be washed clean of prejudice.
"We aren't with the police," Nina admitted, "We're with a private group." Mr. Nolan's curiosity didn't seem satisfied. "I'm sure you're aware that an awful lot of tragedy has befallen this town over the past few days, Mr. Nolan. Many people are eager to see whoever's behind all this bloodshed discovered and dealt with."
"I see... Well, I suppose the more people working on this case, the better," Mr. Nolan said. "You'd best follow me." He led Nina and Demi up to the top floor. By the time he'd reached the top of the third staircase, the old man was exhausted. He paused a moment to catch his breath, then led the witches around to a narrow hallway. Instantly, they noticed the strong aura of death in this place.
About fifteen feet along there was a doorway on the left-hand-side that was missing its door. Demi and Nina soon noticed that a large chunk of the door frame and surrounding wall had been ripped out on both sides. In front of the doorway, a large patch of the wooden floor had been stained dark brown. Beginning at the stain was a series of inhuman foot and handprints along the floor and wall, which led to a broken, boarded-up window at the far end of the hall.
"This... is where we found Miss Perry, God rest her soul," Mr. Nolan lamented. "She was just laying there, in front of the doorway... with her eyes wide open..." he trailed off.
Demi stepped over to the massive bloodstain for a closer look. She knelt down to touch the stained floorboards. A vivid memory of the terror Miss Perry felt in her final seconds flashed before her and sent a chill down her spine.
"The papers don't offer too many details," Nina said, "Can you tell us precisely how Miss Perry was killed?" Mr. Nolan sighed in displeasure. "It might help..." Nina assured him. He nodded silently in agreement, then removed his spectacles and began to clean them with his handkerchief, as he summoned the courage to discuss Miss Perry's awful demise.
"Whatever it was... it punched a hole through the poor woman's ribs and... ripped her heart out," He stammered. "Miss Perry was just doing her rounds, as usual, when... that thing smashed through the frame and murdered her."
"Wait... you're saying it broke out from inside the room?" Demi asked.
"That's what we believe," Mr. Nolan replied. "Tore most of the door frame to kindling. The ruckus drew us up here and that's when we found her. But whatever it was was long gone by then.
"We were so shaken by the sight of Miss Perry, we didn't find out about young Daniel until the police began their investigation."
"Daniel?" Nina said in an inquiring tone.
"Cook's apprentice," Nolan explained, "He was one of our wards who never got adopted. They found him inside, lying on the bed. The state they found that poor boy in..."
Nina and Demi didn't prompt him, they knew he would disclose the details when he was ready.
"All that was left for us to find... was his skeleton... with just a hair's breadth of flesh still clingin' to his bones," Mr. Nolan said with a shudder. Nina and Demi looked at each other in surprise. Of all the victims the manifestation had claimed in the past twelve days, they had never heard of one being so heavily mutilated.
Cautiously, Demi proceeded into the bedroom, followed by Nina and Mr. Nolan. The bed no longer had a mattress; presumably it had been befouled by the young man's remains and subsequently disposed of. Otherwise, nothing about the room seemed out of place, at least to the naked eye. But to Nina and Demi, it was clear that there was a dark aura within this room: a curse left behind when the magical corruption coalesced into a physical form.
"This is where it began," Demi muttered. Nina nodded.
"Pardon me?" said Mr. Nolan.
"This was Daniel's room?" Nina asked, changing the subject.
"Heavens, no," Mr. Nolan quickly responded, "Young Daniel lives... lived in the staff block, all the way over on the other side of the property. What he was doing here in the middle of the night, only God knows."
"But, if all that was left was a skeleton, how do you know the body was Daniel?" Nina countered.
"Well, the doc says they were the bones of a man and Daniel's the only man in the orphanage unaccounted for," Mr. Nolan reasoned. "Besides, they found his clothes by the door."
Nina contemplated the situation for a moment before asking, "So... If this wasn't Daniel's room, whose room was it?"
"Well, this here room belongs to Katherine, the other victim," Mr. Nolan replied.
"Other victim?" Demi said, "I thought only two of the murders occurred here?"
"There were two bodies, yes," Nolan conceded, "But Katherine went missing that night and we haven't seen or heard from her since. The police didn't find any other remains, but considderin' the circumstances of her disappearance... I doubt very much that she's still alive."
"Was there any trace of her left at all? Some blood, perhaps?" Demi inquired.
"All they found was a book of her studies, open on the desk and her night-clothes on the floor," Mr. Nolan answered, "They weren't stained. They weren't even torn. Heck, it's like she just vanished into thin air!" By now, Demi and Nina realized that Katherine's disappearance was an important clue, even if they didn't yet understand what it meant.
"What can you tell us about Katherine?" Nina asked. Mr. Nolan rolled his eyes.
"Well now, Katherine was one of the Harrigan babies," he said in an exasperated tone.
"Harrigan babies?" Nina replied.
"Every two or three years, the Harrigans from Holliston come here with a newborn in the middle of the night," Nolan explained. "It used to be Mr. Harrigan that bought them 'round, but he passed away a few years back and now, his widow makes the deliveries."
"I take it that the babies aren't their own?" Nina guessed.
"Heavens, no!" Mr. Nolan smiled "Mrs. Harrigan is in her seventies!"
"Then where do they get them?" Demi asked.
"It's orphanage policy not to ask questions," Nolan replied. "You can't pick the day, or even the month that they'll show up. But when they do show up, you know what they'll be bringin' - the genders alternate; boy, girl, boy, girl, it's like clockwork. Come to think of it... Daniel was a Harrigan child, too. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, he was the one that arrived just before Katherine." To say this was an intriguing revelation would've been an understatement.
"Is there anything else about these 'Harrigan babies' that seems unusual? Anything at all?" Nina asked with a degree of excitement. Mr. Nolan chuckled.
"Oh, 'unusual' describes the Harrigan children to a tea! Every last one of them is a strange pup. They ain't stupid; they can learn to read and write and they follow instructions good enough. But when you look at them, you feel like... nothin's going on upstairs. They don't smile. They don't play," he remarked, looking Nina in the eye. "They're all the same..." Nina and Demi turned to each other and sighed. Every answer just seemed to provoke more questions.
Demi eventually broke the awkward silence by asking, "Are there any Harrigan babies at the orphanage now?"
"Well, yes, we've got little Grace, she arrived just a couple months ago," Mr. Nolan confirmed. "And then there's young Joshua, as well."
"May we speak with him?" Demi requested.
"You think that it will help you solve these murders?" Mr. Nolan asked with obvious scepticism as he gestured towards the bloodstain outside the doorway.
"Yes," Nina replied, frankly.
"All right," Nolan said with a shrug.
He led the ladies back down to the ground floor. They stopped in the large mess hall, where Mr. Nolan asked Nina and Demi to wait while he fetched Joshua from his classroom. He returned a couple minutes later with a young boy of about eight or nine. The child had dirty blonde hair that was trimmed in a 'bowl' style. His irises were unusually pale, to the point where it was impossible to tell if they were grey or blue. There was a gloomy frown on his face and somehow, Demi and Nina got the impression that this was how he normally looked. He began sizing up the mysterious visitors as soon as he entered the room. But there was no sense of wonderment in his demeanor. Now, they understood what Mr. Nolan meant when he said, "there's nothing going on upstairs."
"Now then, Joshua, these young ladies wish to speak to you," Mr. Nolan explained in a no-nonsense tone.
"Hello, Joshua," Nina greeted with a friendly smile, bending over to meet with the boy's eye-level. "I'm Miss Hadyn and this is Miss Felsen." Demi was also flashing a welcoming smile. "We need a special helper to tell us all about things here at the orphanage, and Mr. Nolan says that you're just the man for the job," Nina said, doing her best to make an interrogation sound as exciting as possible.
The boy didn't say a word, but slowly advanced towards Nina. He stopped about a foot away from her and ran his eyes over her very carefully. Then he stepped over towards Demi and inspected her with equal scrutiny. Their friendly expressions did nothing to warm his demeanor. Finally, the little boy opened his mouth and spoke to the ladies in a deadpan tone.
"The ones inside you smell the same," he said. "He fucked you both. It's boring." The smiles instantly melted from Demi and Nina's faces.
"JOSHUA!" Mr. Nolan snarled, his face turning bright red with rage. "Impudent little cur! How dare you use such language!" He marched up to the child, grabbed him firmly by the ear and dragged him out of the room. The boy didn't so much as wince under Nolan's manhandling, but left the room with the same sorrowful expression with which he'd entered.
"I'm so sorry, ladies, we've never had such vulgarity from him before," Mr. Nolan apologized before he left, briefly calming his voice for Nina and Demi's benefit. Demi simply nodded in acceptance.
"Just wait till I learn you, child!" The witches heard him boom as he dragged the boy down the hallway. "I'm gonna cane your hide raw, boy!"
"He knew..." Nina muttered as the administrator's rantings faded into silence. "He knew we're carrying new life. He knew that Swift Coyote is the father of our daughters... There is something terribly unnatural about that boy." She turned to her sister and saw a look of concern that mirrored her own. "What in the name of the Goddess is going on here, Demi?"
"I'm not sure," Demi replied, "But I think we need to pay this Mrs. Harrigan a visit as soon as possible..."
July 14th, 1931, 3:26pm.
By the time Demi and Nina had returned from the orphanage, Levinia and Swift Coyote had recuperated enough to make the 25-mile journey to Holliston, home of the enigmatic Mrs. Harrigan. At the end of a long, bumpy bus ride the four witches and their male companion alighted into the main street of the large town.
Instantly, the witches knew that there was something terribly off about this place - an unnatural foulness in the air. All the townspeople stopped and stared at the strangers with hostile eyes. The witches had encountered misplaced fear and disgust from other people many times before, but never when they were travelling incognito.
Swift Coyote and the ladies headed south along the main street footpath, catching many a suspicious glare along the way. The clerks of virtually every shop they past either made a hasty attempt to hide from sight or reached under their counters, presumably for some weapon they kept there.
It didn't take long for Swift Coyote to notice that the townspeople's' behaviour towards each other wasn't much friendlier than it was towards him or his friends.
"These people are frightened... and not just of us," he remarked, in a brief instance when he was out of earshot of any locals.
"Mmm," Nerine agreed. "It's as if they have veil of discontent clinging to their souls. A curse has taken hold on this town... and everybody who lives here." She looked over at Swift Coyote, who was wearing the same serious expression that he only ever abandoned in private. "Oh, cheer up!" She smiled, "It means we've come to the right place."
Swift Coyote glanced at her and smirked for just an instant.
The party slowed and stopped in front of the drug store, for the grey-haired manager inside seemed to be the least anxious person they had passed since getting off the bus. Though, he still watched them carefully as they all filed in through the single door.
"Hello," Demi greeted with a smile.
"Afternoon," the drug store manager replied in a frosty tone.
"We're looking for a family friend who lives somewhere in Holliston. Ruth Harrigan... she's an older lady, in her seventies. Do you happen to know where we might find her?" Demi asked. The store manager ran his stern eyes over all five strangers, pursed his wrinkly lips, then turned his eyes back to the open newspaper on his counter.
"Yup!" he answered with clear disinterest. "She's one of our customers here. She lives over on Jafrey... 34 or 36, I forget. One-level place with a green picket fence and a big ol' maple in the front yard. Hard to miss." He paused a moment as he rolled his lips to wet them. Demi was just about to break the awkward silence when the clerk anticipated her next question.
"You follow Main Street here just the way you wuz goin'. You take the fourth or fifth right, Silvie Avenue; you'll see the sign. Then you take the next left. That's Jafrey Street," he explained.
Demi nodded. "Thank you," she farewelled, trying to remain polite despite the clerk's indifference.
"Yup. Good day," he replied, in an insincere tone, without looking up from his paper.
The witches exited the store in single file, with Swift Coyote bringing up the rear.
While they had been inside, six young men, many of whom were scruffy-looking, had gathered outside the drugstore. As the comely young witches and their male companion continued down the footpath per the clerk's directions, the local men followed. Swift Coyote had spied the men as he left the store and had noticed that most of the men were either sporting holsters, or telltale bulges in their coat pockets.
The ominous sound of footsteps behind them grew louder and louder with each passing second. Not only were the stalkers getting closer, but it seemed their ranks were growing, as well.
Swift Coyote was ready to draw his hunting knife from within his jacket the instant they came within striking distance. He listened to their footsteps and knew exactly how many opponents he was up against and where each one was. The seasoned warrior soon realized that there were too many assailants- he couldn't defeat them all, even with his superior speed and strength. But he could buy the women carrying his unborn children time to flee to safety.
The witches were well aware of the danger they were in, but were flawless in their nonchalance. Nina knew what her lover was thinking and wanted desperately to deter him. But she could not risk sending him a signal, for fear of provoking the stalkers.
Finally, Demi saw her chance -- a split in the pavement just ahead. The instant that she and her companions had crossed to the other side, she cast her spell. A sinkhole opened beneath the footpath, just behind them, and the entire slab of concrete dropped four feet, along with all 13 of the leering stalkers.
"Now! Run!" Demi ordered, as the men lost their footing. The witches and Swift Coyote double timed down the street, leaving their would-be attackers far behind.
Residence of Mrs. R. Harrigan, Holliston, NC
July 14th, 1931, 3:44pm.
The heavy deadbolt opened with a clunk and the wooden front door slowly opened. From behind the thin screen door, Nerine spied the suspicious glance of an elderly, spectacled woman.
"Yes?" she said in a timid voice, "Can I help you?"
"Mrs. Harrigan?" Nerine asked. Without meaning to, the old lady confirmed she was Mrs. Harrigan by simply not denying it.
Peeking through the crack in the door, Nerine caught sight of something shiny beside the old lady, roughly at her hip level. A butcher's knife! And a big one at that! Mrs. Harrigan was clenching it tightly, but had not yet raised it into a defensive position. Undeterred, Nerine proceeded to introduce herself, in a relaxed but confident tone. The best way to put Mrs. Harrigan at ease was to remain at ease, herself.
"My name is Nerine. These are my sisters, Levinia, Demi and Nina, and this is our friend, Mr. Coyote. We've just come here from Applebury and a friend of ours there asked us to stop by and check in on you: Mr. Nolan," Nerine explained. Mrs. Harrigan's attitude softened when she heard the familiar name of the orphanage administrator.
"Mr. Nolan," the old lady repeated. "He's a good man. There aren't many of them left," she lamented. "Is he a good man?" Mrs. Harrigan asked, nodding towards the imposing Native American.
"He's very honorable," Nerine smiled. Mrs. Harrigan paused for a moment, before deciding to trust the strangers on her doorstep.
"You'd best come in," she said as she lowered the knife and turned back into the house. Nerine opened the squeaky screen door and the old lady led the witches and the warrior into her living room. The room was modest in size, but there was enough seating for all six people around the quaint little coffee table.
"Would you like me to get you something to drink?" Mrs. Harrigan asked with a glare.
"Please," Nerine nodded with a smile. She had no intention of indulging the lady's unfriendliness. Besides, it had been a long journey and she and the others would welcome some refreshment. Mrs. Harrigan sighed and trudged off into the kitchen.
Nerine, Nina, Demi and Swift Coyote found seats in the living room. Levinia wandered into the kitchen and offered her assistance, but Mrs. Harrigan declined. After a few minutes, the old lady returned with a tray containing six mugs of steaming hot coffee. She set it down on the table and everybody picked up the cup closest to them.
"Mmm... It's lovely," Nerine complimented after her first sip. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Mrs. Harrigan responded. Her mood seemed to have softened.
The witches engaged in several minutes of small talk with Mrs. Harrigan, to help put her at ease, before they began inquiring about the subject that had brought them to Holliston.
"Forgive me," Levinia began, "but I'm curious... How did you and Mr. Nolan meet? You live so far away from each other..." It was a subtle way of steering the conversation in the right direction, but it was very effective.