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  • by Mackenzie O'Rear

Chpater 16 - The Silent Castle

Edited by Brien Bigelow

Illustrations by Lucas Marra

Finn and Sarah trudged into Switzerland at the height of a blizzard. They had kept to the outskirts, trying their best to move east as fast as possible, only for the cold to nearly stop them in their tracks. It wasn’t the frost that hindered them, however, so much as the howling wind that bore down on them.

It was midmorning, as Sarah took the lead, listening to the whispers guide her to a safe haven. Finn did his best to shield her from the wind, but even with his higher heat, the cold was slowing him down. Sarah was shivering, but not from the cold. Her flesh had become resilient to any type of necrosis. In truth, she was still reeling from feeling like her old self, no matter how briefly it had been, and it was concerning her. It wouldn’t be the last time.

The snow was piling on hard, and it was becoming more difficult to carve their way through it. They were getting soaked, as the first snowstorm made them cringe. Sarah’s bandages were clinging to her thin frame, and if had not been for Finn’s increased strength.,it would have been impossible to move his coat.

‘We need to find shelter, or we won’t make it’ said Finn. Sarah looked at him, worried.

‘No,’ she said. ‘We can’t stop. If they catch us…’ Finn put his hand on her shoulder.

‘If we can’t get through this storm, nobody can,’ he said. Sarah looked up at him. There was logic in what he said, though he didn’t remember what they had felt that night. She could feel the echoes of fear resonating through her body, just as her emotions had before, but she spoke before they could take hold again.

‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘But where to go? We don’t know where we are.’ Finn smiled at her in a way that would have kept anyone warm in the frozen wastes. Finn raised his hand and pointed forward.

‘Two miles,’ he said. ‘I smell damp wood and stone. Lots of it.’

‘What about people?’ she asked. Finn shook his head.

‘Not a soul round,’ he responded. ‘Let’s go.’ She nodded at him, but as soon as she turned round, she tripped over the snow. Finn howled with laughter, and she had almost wanted to join her himself. He walked over to her and let her climb up on his back, and they were off once more.

Sarah was growing fond of riding on his back when he was a wolf. It had stirred memories of when her mother had done the same for her so long ago. She found herself wondering what had happened to her mother recently. She vaguely recalled searching for her when she was outside of her body, so she wondered if she had been alive or passed on.

Finn was occupied with his own thoughts as he trudged through the snow. It had reminded him of the time one, particularly bad winter when he had been back in Ireland. It was just after his own mother had passed away, which left his father as bitter and cold as the first snow that grew on the windows of their home. His father had approached him with an axe he could barely lift, and told him to go chop firewood.

They had plenty of it already, with Martha throwing a log on a fire, just as he had tried to protest. His father smacked him once and pointed to the door. Without a word, he dragged the axe outside. He had done his best to chop the wood. His fingers had frozen, and all feeling had disappeared from them, but he had persisted. He had wanted to make his father proud and show him he could be strong. Instead, an hour had gone by. It was freezing cold, and he had barely chopped any wood.

It was soaking into his very body, chilling him to his core. He had huddled into himself, and had tried to warm his hands with his breath, but nothing would get the feeling back into them. Finn had begun to cry as the darkness round his vision began to grow. He could barely let out a sound, as the tears froze to his face. It had hurt so much.

Little Finn had slumped over in the snow, ready to die at such a young age. He begged for it, just because it had meant he could see his mom again. Before he lost all sense of himself, he remembered feeling warm. Something heavy had curled round, him and was sharing its heat with him. Finn had thought maybe his pa had come out and saved him, but when he looked up all he remembered was a pair of amber eyes looking down on him. Everything went blurry after that, as he had fallen asleep, exhausted.

The next day, a neighbour had found him curled up in the snow, sound asleep, a little frozen, but still very much alive. The village had become very wary of his father after that, even after he had blamed Finn for leaving on his own. That had been the first time his father had tried to kill him, but his attempts would be few and far between, given the villagers’ suspicions.

Finn looked up and nudged Sarah on his back, smiling to himself. ‘Look, he said. Sarah peeked over his shoulder and saw a massive black parapet juxtaposed against the blinding white. It was connected to a series of much smaller ones, which had given the whole building a look of a dark void in the snow.

‘A castle,’ whispered Sarah. ‘Just like in the fairy tales.’

‘What was that?’ Finn asked.

‘Like in the tapestry,’ corrected Sarah, glad he hadn’t hear her. ‘The gods are guiding us.’

‘No kidding,’ said Finn. ‘We’ll have to say thank you.’ They made their way to the entrance, and saw the place had been abandoned for years. Half of it had collapsed in on itself. Several windows had been broken, and there was no smoke from the chimney, a necessity in the cold they had experienced.

Sarah slid off of Finn’s back, stranded by the castle. She went up to the door and placed her hand onto the wood.

‘There are many spirits here,’ she said. ‘This place is very old.’

‘Think they’ll mind if we hole up for awhile?’ asked Finn.

‘I don’t think they’ll mind,’ said Sarah. ‘We just have to find a way in.’

‘Leave that to me,’ said Finn. He had become an expert in slipping into places. He scanned the front of the castle, until he noticed the window above the door had been partially broken.

‘There,’ he said. He hunched down, ready to jump up and climb in, when Sarah spoke.

‘Be careful,’ she said. Finn winked at her.

‘I thought you didn’t feel things like worry and whatnot, he chided. ‘But I appreciate it. Before Sarah could respond, Finn launched himself upward, where he caught the lip of the window. In moments, he slid between the broken glass, without so much as a scratch, before landing on the other side. He saw the door had been barricaded by a large wooden slab, and lifted it off the metal brackets that suspended it. The door flew open, as Sarah scrambled inside, Finn hurriedly closing it behind her.

They beheld the inside with. They stood before a massive entrance hall, lined with tapestries and portraits. It had been built to impress visitors when it still had them. They walked along the darkened room along a moth-eaten carpet.

‘Come on,’ said Finn. ‘Let’s find a fireplace and dry off.’ Sarah agreed. Even with her numbed body, the wet bandages were chafing something awful. They walked along corridor after corridor that looked out into the raging snowstorm outside. They would occasionally peek into a room, seeing various bed chambers, drawing rooms, and even an abounded kitchen.

They eventually came to where the building had collapsed, letting a small amount of snow into the hallway. Something had felt off about it to Sarah, and it was Finn who had pointed out why.

‘It burned down,’ he said. ‘I can still smell the chemicals that did it.’

‘How long ago?’ asked Sarah.

‘More than a decade,’ replied Finn. ‘Come on. Let’s keep looking.’They moved on, and eventually stumbled upon a large study. Inside, books had lined the shelves of a large library that surrounded a wide fireplace as well as some torn chairs. It stood above the most modern waiting room they had seen, a family portrait depicting a mother and father, as well as their two sons. One was small, and seemed like a rather happy child, while the other scowled at them through thin glasses.

Finn went about making a fire, piling on the supply of logs next to the hearth. He tore several pieces of cloth off a nearby curtain before pulling out the stolen matches and setting it aflame. Finn and Sarah gathered round the blaze, and even Sarah could feel some semblance of warmth return to her small frame. Finn flopped down next to her, relieved.

‘We can’t stay long,’ said Sarah. ‘Just until the blizzard stops.’

‘Fine by me,’ replied Finn. ‘I’m not eager to go back out there.’ He sat up and looked at Sarah. ‘So…about the spirits…’

‘I’ll know more tonight,’ she said. ‘Ghosts prefer the comfort of the dark.’

“As long as none of them are there, I’ll be fine, Martha’ said Finn.

‘You’ll eventually have to deal with her, as well as the wolf,’

‘What do you even mean by that?’ said Finn. ‘I told ya, the wolf is a monster. A killer.’

‘A killer that saved me,’ said Sarah. ‘Not that it needed to, but you still don’t know what I am capable of.’

‘Maybe I don’t,’ replied Finn. ‘But I know what that thing is capable of. And I hate it for that.’

‘That’s the same as hating yourself, Finn,’ said Sarah. ‘Why won’t you see that?’

‘Because I’m not a killer, Sarah,’ said Finn, looking away. ‘I…I just can’t be a killer.’ Sarah put her hand on his shoulder and did her best to reassure him.

‘Life is a funny thing,’ said Sarah. ‘This is my second after all.’ Finn turned to her and saw she was smiling.

‘That was a joke, wasn’t it?’ he said, amused. ‘I cannot believe it. I never thought I’d see the day.’ He laughed, and so did Sarah, genuinely, which had caught her by surprise. She was about to tell Finn about it when she heard whispering and paused.

‘Whats wrong?’ asked Finn. ‘Don’t tell me that laughing broke you.’

‘No,’ replied Sarah. ‘I just get the feeling that something bad happened here. Something tragic long ago.’

‘It’s an abandoned castle in the middle of a frozen wasteland,’ said Finn. ‘I cannot say I’m surprised.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Sarah. ‘But it feels important.’ Finn looked down the hallway, filled with the echoes of the dead. The wind howled outside, blowing the lighter snow off the ground, and uncovering a sign of the family that had owned the castle for generations. Finn and Sarah sat in silence under the roof of Castle Xylander, whose history would soon entwine with their own.

Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company

Victorian Nightmares 2018

All Rights Reserved

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