𝚃𝙷𝙴 𝙶𝚁𝙰𝚅𝙴𝙻 𝙳𝚁𝙸𝚅𝙴𝚆𝙰𝚈 𝙸𝚂 𝙹𝚄𝚂𝚃 𝙰𝚂 𝚄𝙽𝙴𝚅𝙴𝙽 𝙽𝙾𝚆 𝙰𝚂 𝙸𝚃 𝚆𝙰𝚂 𝙵𝙸𝚅𝙴 𝚈𝙴𝙰𝚁𝚂 𝙰𝙶𝙾. it’s been a long time since you’ve been here, even before the hunt began; you’d stopped coming home for the holidays and they’d stopped asking, it was just easier for everyone involved. an amicable agreement, really, less a hatred and more of a general absence of any bond that would make the three-hour drive out worthwhile. and maybe that’s sad, sure; but you’re mostly numb to it. you’re mostly numb to everything.
the wind is strong; almost shrieks in pitch through the oddly-shaped soybean leaves, now that they’ve all died and dried up in the sun, turned just as golden as the wheat fields you’d passed to get here. the soil is dry, you can tell from here- a wide berth of information from your youth, learned from osmosis and against your will, starts plucking at the forefront of your mind. a shimmering memory lays itself over the farmhouse, and points out all the differences between your family home and the decrepit shell you look out at, at the end of that gravel driveway. the windows are broken in a very familiar pattern. you don’t have any more room to fear exactly what that looks like, but fear is a porous emotion- and it soaks up dread like an old friend.
the stones crunch loudly beneath your worn-in soles. it almost takes up too much space in your brain, echoing and uncomfortably drowning out any other sound that may come from farther away; but you don’t stop walking. you keep pushing onwards even as the wind tries to urge you back the way you came, like it’s sure there’s something down there that you’re not going to want to see, like it’s trying to protect you ( ONE OF OUR OWN, STRONG BREEZE IN HUMAN SHAPE, PLEASE AVERT YOUR EYES BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE ) , but you don’t listen to it. you feel a pang of guilt for it, almost, for refusing the kindness of nature, but you need to know that lays behind those shredded curtains, that water-worn screen door.
your hand hovers over the oxidized handle, the first hesitation you've made since arriving on the property- it used to be this shiny copper, the same colour as your mom's hair, a gene you didn't receive. now, the blue-green surface feels like a filter, something squeezing out every last feeling of familiarity in this shell of a childhood residence. your weight bends the planks of the porch; they were never sturdy, but now there's not a lick of strength to them, no form or structure that would speak to it having been used or repaired in ages.
you look closer at the windows now that you're here. the glass is inside the house, broken inwards, and as such the intruder must have been outside; but you knew that already. you don't need to analyze the lines and patterns of where the glass shards used to be in order to know exactly what had done it. it keeps your eyeline for far too long- but another shrieking wind snaps you out of your dread-weighted gaze, pushing you to rip the door open with a force that makes the hinges whine alongside the other protesting sounds in the air. everything's telling you to leave, to let it lie, you know what's coming when you step into this house, you don't need to look it in the face, but you can't. you've never been able to let things go like that, not once, not ever, and that's how you'd gotten yourself into this fucking mess.
and of course, the first thing you see when you step into the foyer are a dirt outline of a pair of hooves. large, larger than any deer or stag should have, maybe a moose- but unmistakable to you, now, and your chest constricts like a bear trap.
once more, you are a being of fear above all else; your eyes jump around the entrance-way and away from the tracks, to look for further evidence of his presence, what he'd done here, how much damage he'd caused while you were off gallivanting across america in a farcical attempt to outrun death. you forget that death is sentient; you forget, of course, that he can wait longer than you, and he can take whatever he pleases the longer you give him the run-around. you forget that your parents are vulnerable (AND YOU CHOOSE YOUR TENSE CAREFULLY; ARE, NOT WERE, PLEASE GOD- NOT WERE).
the ceiling lamp, covered by a frosted glass globe to dim the bulb's brightness, is shattered; the pieces are crushed across the worn hardwood, almost as finely ground as the sand it was made out of. the dangerous powder is tracked to the staircase, and so you cautiously follow its trail with mud on your converse, all dried up and crumbling. your mother would have shouted at you to clean off your damn shoes before going upstairs to the subjectively nice carpet, but the house is utterly silent- only the creaking of the old wooden frame in the heavy wind, the same wind that tried to urge you back down the driveway, fills the deafening nothingness.
the sixth step from the bottom had always been creaky and frail, but this time, your foot falls right through it- and yet, you're silent. no startled sound, not even a gasp; just a sting of pain, the feeling of anxiety spreading like a poison through your extremities, under your perfectly trained expression. you are a being of fear, but you're entirely used to the feeling, and so you push on with quivering hands and weakened ankles.
you feel a prickling chill at the back of your neck when you see the state of the three doors upstairs- one, slightly ajar, to the bathroom, where a draft seems to be chilling the foyer with. one, closed shut and untouched, towards your room, where a sting of guilt rips through you (A SHRINE TO THEIR LOST DAUGHTER; SILENT AND PAINFUL). and the last, furthest from you, and broken down; you swallow thickly, every moment passing drawing you nearer to a conclusion you are so very desperate to reject, with everything inside of you.
but you keep walking. you keep walking, because you need to know exactly what lies behind the splintered wood and dusted plaster, even if it kills you to see death so close. the smell gets stronger as you approach; not as strong as you had expected, though you're not sure if that's just because you're beginning to feel the threads of complete dissociation tug you out of your body in preparation to see what it is he's left behind in that room for you to find. there must be an open window in their bedroom, too, because you feel that same wind rushing towards you (COLD AND DESPERATE, TELLING YOU TO TURN BACK), carrying a scent of sulfur and rot, pulling a shuddering breath from tightened lungs.
you almost turn back right then and there- you're at the threshold, and you could turn away, now that the smell is enough to solidify the horrors you suspected in this now-haunted house. but you can't turn away. stone cold and already sickened, you push the fragments of the door open into the uncomfortably familiar room, eyes wide open despite your terror at what you find within (YOU CANNOT FLINCH. YOU WILL NOT FLINCH.)
the first thing you see is the open window. the curtains are torn and the glass is shattered, but the frames are still in a position that would have been open regardless; which means they must have been killed when the weather was warm. you can't stop yourself from painting the picture- a calm evening, crickets and fireflies like you used to catch out in the fields as a child, quiet as they slept through the night. they always were heavy sleepers, probably didn't even hear the glass crashing as he attempted to maneuver his antlers through the house's narrow halls.
your eyes find the edge of the bed, and they freeze; it's hard to force yourself to continue your eye's track up the sheets, because you know they're there, you can see just enough out of your peripheral, and you're afraid to. your eyes are wide, watering from the smell (STILL NOT AS BAD AS YOU WOULD HAVE THOUGHT) and from the deep sense of pain bubbling up in your ribcage, but you're finally able to unlock them and look, for the first time, upon the corpses of your parents.
they're dried out and awfully skeletal- the open window must have invited in animals or insects to pick at their bones, scavengers and vultures devouring them before they'd had the chance to rot into the bedspread themselves. the sheets are coated in blood, but not like they should be; the blood is pooled instead of splattered like it should be with those wounds, and that makes you even more nauseous (HE'D KILLED THEM, YES, BUT THEN HE'D STAGED THEM FOR YOU TO FIND). they lay perfectly still. you stand perfectly still. your parents are dead. your parents are dead and it's your fault. your parents were killed by a beast who only wanted you and they would have died terrified and confused, minds reeling at the presence of something beyond their ability to comprehend, the only thought able to push itself through the curtain of fear likely being why? why this? why like this?
there is a ringing in your ears; it's pushing at the sides of your skull, a numbing dulling tone that drives you out of your own body at the sight. your blood turns to acid and settles, heavy in your extremities, as your heart stops and shrivels. your body rejects this- it rejects the sight, rejects the idea, the sheer concept that this could be real, that it's your fault, and it forces you out of your skin to barely stomach it. the fear is, as it always it, poignant and overwhelming but the dread slows your heartrate to a heavy drum in your chest; solid and shattering, not the jackrabbit pace you usually find yourself breathing in time with. inside of you, everything stops.
when was the last time you’d seen them? five years ago, sure, but why were you here? passover dinner, probably; a quiet affair, barely caring enough about the formalities of everything to even read from the haggadah, to the point where you’d left just as soon as you could. they’d stopped offering you the old bedroom to stay in ( NOT YOURS, NOT ANYMORE; SO UNCOMFORTABLY FOREIGN TO YOU- EVEN IN YOUR YOUTH YOU FELT UNWELCOME IN IT), after you’d denied the invitation a solid handful of times previously, and you didn’t resent them for it. you’d rented a hotel room before changing your mind and driving back out to toronto in the middle of the night, no further contact being made. an easy cut, a clean break-
unlike the strips of flesh torn from crushed bones you see before you- the flesh is shrivelled and dried, mostly picked clean but still evident enough to suggest at a living, breathing body that it once helped to construct.
a wave of dizziness clouds your vision while your body moves against your own will; and when the static behind your eyes clears, you’re laying between the bodies, staring up at the ceiling- gruesome, and silent. the bedsheets are just as scratchy as they always were; some eaton’s eye-lace edged bargain set they’d gotten long before you were born, fitting for the outdated wallpaper and original siding on the farmhouse, like a time capsule to the 40′s. they lived the same way you do; necessity over all else, and if the uncomfortably stiff and dusty sheets did the job, they’d never think to replace them. of course, now they’re a touch more decrepit than before, but your humourless mind can’t make the connection to the fact that nobody else will be needing them anymore.
you hadn’t slept between them since... god, not even as a child, had you ever found yourself attempting to be comforted by them. at a young age, they’d hoped for your independence, forced you into it like pushing you into the lake ( WHICH THEY HAD DONE, TAUGHT YOU HOW TO SWIM- AND TAUGHT YOU TO BE AFRAID OF OPEN WATER, TOO ). and you did grow into it, isolated within yourself, learning to stop screaming when the nightmares would wake you up- learned to stare directly into the dark corners of your room to make sure the creatures knew you weren’t afraid, even when your fingertips would tingle with the speed of your anxious blood shooting through your capillaries.
so here you lay- for hours, and hours, numb to the air that re-settles around you after you’d so rudely displaced it, coating your own pale skin with death and decay. next to these corpses, you almost feel like one yourself; tired, slow, still and doomed. cernunnos had not done this for nothing. you’d once believed he wouldn’t go out of his way to tear down anyone but you, and now the game has changed- nothing is off limits. you’re only grateful you don’t have much to lose.
even this, however much pain has pushed you down into this uncomfortably foreign bed between the two creatures that brought you into this world, you know it will pass- you’ll push it down, and you’ll go on not thinking about them for months, if not years. there’s something sickening about the fact that here, where you are, after the shock of horror has worn off, you mourn the relationship you never had with them rather than who they were to you, truly, in your own living life.
you haven’t even thought about their names, have you? you struggle to remember them, don’t you?
in the morning, you close the screen door behind you again, and it all looks just as untouched as it did before you’d come home- save for a few shards of displaced glass in the halls, but nothing anyone but you and HIM would notice. you don’t think he’d circle back. he knows you better than to come check to see if you’d tripped into his trap.
the gravel is louder in the mornings, wet with dew and heavier, clinging to the worn-down treads of your shoes. the bodies are still laying exactly where you found them- no burial, no stones, nothing to denote your presence as anything more than just a passerby, some sort of tourist rather than a daughter. soon, this farmhouse will collapse when the wood rots at the nail-points, all the old makeshift fixes will come crashing down, and that’ll be their burial, if they really want one. you take in a deep breath of the fresh, clean air, and you choke.
there is a thin layer of rotting dust on the lapels of your trench coat- you tried dusting it off, but now you’ll have to learn to live with it.
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