Chapter 17 - Take Flight
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
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, though, as 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 that 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 storm cringed to them, Sarah’s bandages clinging to her thin frame, and if it had not been for Finn’s increased strength, his coat would have been impossible to move it.
‘We need to find shelter,’ said Finn. ‘We won’t make it..’ 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,’ he said. ‘Nobody can.’ 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 spoke before they could take hold again.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘But where do we 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 around,’ he responded. ‘Let’s go.’ She nodded at him, but as soon as she turned around she tripped over the snow. Finn howled with laughter, and she had almost wanted to join in herself. 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 had passed on.
Finn was occupied with his own thoughts as he trudged through the snow. It had reminded him of the time him of one particularly bad winter he had seen back in Ireland. It was just after his own mother had passed away, which had 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, and did 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, and he had barely chopped any wood.
It was soaking into his very body, chilling him to his very core. He huddled into himself had tried to warm his hands with his breath, but nothing would get the feeling back in them. Finn had begun to cry, as the darkness around his vision began to grow. He could barely let out a sound as the tears froze to his face. It hurt so much.
The train came to a screeching halt, stopping just short of Jack’s nose. He smiled and disappeared, as passengers began to stick their heads out of the windows to see what had caused many of them to be flown forward so unceremoniously.
Richard spotted Jack just before he vanished and ran off after him, telling Blake to keep the train there until he came back. No excuses. He wouldn’t go far, but he would feel some sense of accomplishment if he could at least put a bullet in that caped stranger who had led him to one of his earlier humiliations. Blake was left to negotiate with the conductor, and that was that.
Maria was not so lucky. She had been outside Richard and Blake’s compartment moments before the train lurched, sending her straight forward and into a railing. She had hit her head badly, but was quick to recover, when Richard had first exited the compartment. She was relieved when he and Blake rushed by her, actually thankful that he had not been the gentleman she once thought he was. A bleeding woman was of no use to Richard, after all.
Several others had rushed to her aid, but upon regaining all her senses, she declined their assistance and assured them she was fine. She got up and slipped inside Richard’s compartment, locking the door behind her, and began to investigate.
She could smell the lingering smoke of the candle, but was remiss to find that it was nowhere to be seen, Blake’s having extinguished it and put it into his pocket. However, they forgot the map they had been using, and sure enough, there was a small red blotch not far from the Swiss Alps. She marked it down on the map she kept in her notebook, and froze.
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 mum again. Before he lost all sense of himself, he remembered feeling warm. Something heavy had curled around 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 found him curled up in the snow, sound asleep, a little frozen, but still very much alive. The village became very wary of his father after that, even after he had blamed Finn for leaving on his own. That was the first time his father tried to kill him, but his attempts would be fewer and farther 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 snow. It was connected to a series of much smaller ones that 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 hold up for a while?’ 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 nonetheless.’ Before Sarah could respond, Finn had 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 awe. 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 a moth-eaten carpet in the darkened room.
‘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. They would occasionally peek into a room, seeing various bedchambers, 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 lined the shelves of a large library that surrounded a wide fireplace, as well as some torn chairs. Above it stood the most modern painting 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 from a nearby curtain before pulling out the stolen matches and setting it aflame. Finn and Sarah gathered around 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 Martha, I’ll be fine’ said Finn.
‘You’ll have to deal with her eventually,’ said Sarah. ‘The wolf as well.’
‘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 onto 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, which had caught her by surprise. She was about to tell Finn about it when she heard whispering and paused.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Finn. ‘Don’t tell me that laughing broke you.’
‘No,’ replied Sarah. ‘I just get the feeling 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.
The train had slowly begun to move again, and with it she could hear the heavy footsteps of her former fiance, followed by Blake. She could tell the former was in a foul mood for whatever reason, and was stomping through the corridor, causing the other passengers to scatter and retreat to their own compartments, terrified of the ex-soldier.
Maria’s heart began to race so fast she was sure it was going to leap straight out of her chest. Richard reached for the handle to the door and pulled, only for it to be stopped by the lock. He swore loudly.
‘Blake, what is this?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ replied his companion. ‘Is it locked?’
‘I would say so,’ said Richard. ‘Idiot. You must have locked it on your way out.’ Blake stared at him indignantly.
‘I was in a hurry,’ said Blake. ‘Some brash man ran out without so much as a thought of what he could have left behind. Luckily I grabbed the candle, which is supposed to be your responsibility as well.’ They sat for a moment, staring at one another with hatred. Richard for being talked back to, and Blake for being blamed by such a lowly hunter.
‘Stay here,’ said Richard, through gritted. ‘I’ll get the conductor to open it.’ Blake opened his mouth to say something along the lines of ‘see that you do,’ but wisely decided not to once he saw the seething hatred in Richard’s eyes. Blake stepped aside and let the angry man stomp his way back to the front of the train.
Maria let out a sigh of relief. She would rather deal with someone like Blake than the monster that was Richard. She quickly looked around the compartment for a blunt object she might able to use to knock the small man outside unconscious, but found she didn’t need to. Blake had walked far enough down the hall that she was able to slip out and make her way back to her seat.
When she sat down, she peeked around the corner and sure enough there was a loud commotion. She had hoped Richard was berating Blake when the cabin had been opened this whole time, but her heart sank when she heard a single word echo through the corridor: ‘Map.’ She had let it sit there in the open, and now they would be looking for the culprit.
Richard and Blake burst through into her train car with a bang, opening each door in turn and inspecting each cabin thoroughly. She thought about ducking into the next car, but Blake was still in the hallway and even if she had managed to elude him a second time. It would only be a matter of time before they searched the whole train.
‘Drat,’ she muttered to herself. That was when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
She whirled around, ready to scream, only to be met with a hand over her mouth that happened to belong to the smiling friend that seemed to be following her. Her eyes went wide as Jack smiled at her, placing a single finger over his mouth. She nodded, and he lowered his other hand from her mouth.
‘Seem to be in a spot of trouble,’ said Jack. ‘Now how did this happen?’
‘What do you want?’ asked Maria, starring at him warily.
‘To help, of course,’ he replied. ‘Keep the game going.’
‘What on earth are you talking about?’ she asked.
‘Live a few decades and you might understand,’ replied Jack. ‘That hasn’t happened yet, has it? No matter. Would you like some assistance?’
‘From you?’ she said, bemused. ‘Perish the thought.’ Jack smiled at her.
‘After all I did it to help you,’ said Jack, trying to frown and failing horribly. ‘Reuniting you with your lost friend. Twice, no less, and you still don’t trust me? I’m hurt.’
‘I doubt that,’ said Maria. Jack did his best to surpass a giggle.
‘Guilty,’ he said. ‘But you don’t have any options.’
‘I could go through the window,’ she lied. ‘I just have to roll and hit the ground.’
‘You’re more than welcome to try,’replied Jack. ‘But I don’t believe the pale lad would enjoy hearing how you died. Which reminds me, I do have to be in Istanbul soon, so if you could hurry it up.’ Before Maria could respond, she heard Richard’s loud footsteps followed by another door being slid open. It sounded like there was only one more between them and her. She turned to Jack.
‘Could you actually get me out of here?’ she asked. He smiled, as something amusing occurred to him.
‘I admit,’ he said, laughing slightly. ‘I’ve never tried.’ Just as Maria was about to berate him, she heard Richard exiting the room and moving to the one next to her.
‘I think someone might be in there,’ said Blake. ‘I thought I heard voices.’
‘All the more reason to hurry, then,’ replied Richard, his voice angry and eager to draw blood. ‘Let’s see, shall we?’ Maria panicked and grabbed Jack’s hand, just as the door slid open to reveal an empty compartment.
Richard and Blake threw the door open, to see the compartment had been empty. Richard sneered at the space before moving on to the next cart, Blake following closely behind him.
Meanwhile, Maria was witnessing the very strange sensation of being one place one moment, and then another a moment later, without ever moving. To this day, she could never recall what she had seen in that odd journey, only that once it was over she had fallen to her knees and vomited violently onto a patch of grass., though that part would still go unsaid in her various retellings of it.
Jack smiled and belted out his high-pitch laugh into the evening air, and began to dance round her, breathing his blue flair into the air. She too regained her composure and stood, albeit wobbling slightly, until she was face to face with him.
‘I suppose I should thank you,’ she said to Jack.
‘No need,’ he replied. ‘That was so funny it was worth the trip itself!’ She groaned as she held back another wave of nausea.
‘Where am I?’ she asked. ‘What is this place.? She looked round herself and saw she now stood upon a grassy hill overlooking a small village. It was quiet and quaint, but wholly unfamiliar to her. She might have even recognised it from a book.
‘It’s no fun if I tell,’ said Jack. ‘You know that. But I certainly hope you know German and I would stay here awhile. You never know when someone interesting might blow into town. Tata for now.’ He gave her a deep bow before vanishing once again, and Maria had been glad to get rid of him, though she would admit that he had been useful.
She looked down again at the sleepy little village and pulled out her notebook. On the other side of her hill, large mountains were covered in snow and surrounded that entire side of the village. She jotted it down in the notebook and looked at the fact, until she came to a realisation.
‘Austria,’ she said to herself. ‘Good.’ She had deduced where she was, at least in general, and was now ahead of the blotch on the map Richard and his companion had been following. Now all she had to do was wait and keep an eye out for…well she wasn’t sure, but she had confidence if she kept an eye out she could discern what she was looking for.
She brushed herself off and headed down to the small town, where she would wait, though it wouldn’t belong. Switzerland shared a border with Austria, and somewhere deep in its mountains, a storm was beginning to fade away.
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved