I was sitting on one of the cold granite benches in the middle of the Octagon trying to read the Latin inscriptions on the four walls that didn’t have entry ways. There was nothing else to do. When I had been here before with my older cousins Bill and Stan we had explored the whole complex and graveyard. Not that there was much to the complex.
The lower part consisted of the Octagon and the three crypts. The walls of the Octagon were perhaps 10 feet tall and ended just a foot or so above ground level. And then there was the dome. It was kind of cool, but I’d seen it a million times before. The upper structure was pretty much just a false front to cover the tops of the walls and the dome. There was a steep peaked, neo-gothic roof to keep the rain and snow off. Besides the empty space around the dome there were two small store rooms.
I heard Mom say something, her voice drifting up from the Hawthorn crypt as if from a different universe. I walked over and looked down the seven steps into the vault. I could see them down there, still bent over in front of Grandmother’s coffin. I figured they’d be there a while yet. I started walking around the room, running my finger against the wall.
“Quiet as a grave, I’d say,” I said out loud. My voice was eaten by the rough granite, not an echo to be heard. I stopped walking and cursed myself. It wasn’t a funny joke anyway.
By coincidence I had stopped at the entrance to the Halley Branch’s crypt. I looked at the lines draw in the dust and realized that it was a cross. The top of the cross went beyond the threshold to the top of the stairs while the short arms stretched across the entryway so you couldn’t pass without stepping over it. In the middle there was a brass crucifix, perhaps five inches tall. In each of the endpoints of the cross there was a little medal or charm. There were four more charms across each side of the arms across the threshold. Outside of the cross were a few used votive candles.
The last time I had visited the mausoleum the charms had been scattered as if a whirlwind had swept through, but they had been organized again.
I didn’t know who made this little display. My cousin Stan told me it was a witch in the Hawthorn branch, that she made it to keep the evil spirits of the Halley branch in the tomb. Dark things were said about the Halley branch.
I looked down the steps into the crypt and let out a little gasp. Something was shining, a light or candle or flame. I had been told the lights had been broken as long as anybody could remember. The light wasn’t bright, but I could see it, it was unmistakably there. I needed to investigate.
I stepped down. My heart was in my throat and my hands sweaty. The stories I’d heard about the Halleys, the torture, the cruelty. According to legend, the evil didn’t end when the last Halley was placed in the crypt but had only intensified. Even the adults said the name in a whisper and made me promise to never go down. And Stan, who seemed to fear nothing, wouldn’t get within ten feet of the entrance. He laughed and said he wasn’t afraid, but actions speak louder than words.
I took another step down.
I froze. I could still see the light, but it looked almost like there was a figure standing down there. As hard as I stared, I couldn’t make out any details. I took another step. Yes, the figure moved! I tried to turn and run up the stairs but couldn’t. I felt a rushing down the steps. No, not a rushing, a sucking. Something down there was sucking in everything, everything: the light, the air. Me.
“Stop,” I told my foot as it lifted on its own. “Stop!” My voice was sucked down into the crypt. I waved my arms to try to keep myself on the step, but down to the next one I went. As I was trying to resist I could see in my peripheral vision a strong, blond man at the foot of the stairs. Balance back, stopped for the moment on the fourth step down, I looked ahead. The blond man wasn’t there, but the shadowy figure was, a little closer.
I could feel the sweat trickling down my face, down my back, but I felt cold, cold to the bone. My shivering was uncontrollable. I tried to turn back up the steps, but gave up, panting at the effort. I was being crushed, the air in my lungs forced out and sucked down the steps. I gave in and stepped down to the fifth step down. The figure below took another step closer to me. I closed my eyes and wiped away the tears. Through the closed lids I could feel the blond man draw closer. I opened my eyes. There was no blond man. The shadow figure was still the same distance.
I couldn’t hold out any longer and decided to get it over with. I stepped down onto the sixth step and then to the landing. The figure, now recognizable as a boy, had closed the gap with me. I reached out as he reached out. My fingers touched his glassy fingers.
The light, the figure, they weren’t real, just reflections. Unlike the other crypts, there was a door at the bottom the steps. A mirror hung on the door. Was that all it was, after all? Had everyone glanced down, seen the light and movement and figured it must be sprits.
The walls sucked in the laugh and my breath with it.
Trying to act brave I reached out and tried to open the door. It was locked. I took a closer look at the knob.
As soon as my eyes left the mirror I could see the blond man in the mirror out of my peripheral vision. I jolted back upright, but he was gone. I experimented and turned my head away. Slowly I turned back. The man was there, in my peripheral until I was almost straight on to the mirror and it changed back to just me.
I reached out to touch my reflection again, but my hand was shaking violently so I brought it back down to my side.
I made up my mind, I had to risk it. I had to turn my back on the mirror and go back up the stairs.
I turned and sprung up one step then to the second. Every muscle in my body ached. I slowly turned, seeing the man at the edge of sight.
Only this time he really was there, at the foot of the stairs, not in the mirror. Not a reflection. Solid.
“Who are you, boy?” the man said. He wasn’t tall, but was stocky, powerful. “At least you’re not one of those damn ni…er Hawkins, though being a ni…er loving Halley isn’t much better. Why are you here, boy? Why, boy?”
The man scowled, his pale gaunt face caving in to skull proportions.
“I.., I.., I, I’m sorry sir, I was curious,” I said.
“Curious? I’m sure you are,” he said. His cold, dead grey eyes sunk back into his skull, the flesh returned. “Are you wondering if I really did burn my slaves alive rather than give them up? Stupid slander. I was born, raised, lived and died in Massachusetts. Perhaps there was an accident with a servant. And perhaps I did hint I was planning on killing the whole Hawkins branch to purge their kind from our family, but no, I hate to be the one to tell you it never happened. I never owned a slave in my entire life.
“Now about my wife and daughter,” he started to laugh, a booming sound which somehow echoed off of the cold stone, off of the back of my brain. “The bitch knew I needed a son. She knew, but she chose.”
“But,” I said.
“Don’t tell me it is the man who creates gender, I know,” he said, his face intensifying back to a skull again. “But she did it because she wanted a little girl. You know nothing of our kind, but, oh, you should.”
The laugh filled my world again. I tried to shut it out, but it filled me.
“If you’d been less curious in time you would have learned,” he said. “But now you are mine. Maybe I can undo what that bitch did to me all of those years ago.”
He started to mount the step between us and reached out a hand. Something happened inside of me. A fire was lit in my chest, a fire radiating strength. I didn’t know what I was doing, but somehow drew a foot back then kicked the man in the face with all of my might.
Strong bands of nothing snapped and I felt the sucking stop, the bonds break. I turned and scurried up the steps.
As I neared the top the sucking started again, pulling at me, grabbing me. The fire was quickly quenched, the breath sucked from my lungs.
A hand came down on my right shoulder. I could feel the bony fingers tearing through my shirt, digging into my flesh. I could feel the blood. I reached with left hand, trying for the crucifix that was just out of reach, my fingers falling just inches short. I could feel myself being drug back. He was going to pull me into the Halley crypt.
“Trevor, Trevor!” a voice shouted in my ear. “Trevor, wake up!”
The voice was female. The voice was Bethy.
“You were having a nightmare. I’ve never seen you like this,” she said. She was shaking, her voice quivering.
“It’s ok,” I said. “Yeah, just a nightmare. I’m sure it was triggered by what happened at the mausoleum today.”
I got up and went to the bathroom to wash my face.
Only I knew it wasn’t just a nightmare. It was a repressed memory. As I looked in the mirror I tried to recall what had happened.
Not being able to reach the cross I tried to drop straight down. I was momentarily free. I grabbed the charm at the top of the steps and threw it in the face of the man. He hesitated so I lunged towards the crucifix. I could feel his nails bite into my back as I dove, but I grabbed it.
I don’t know what I believed that day. I don’t know if it was Jesus on that cross, or some other god or spirit. I don’t know if it was my will, or the power of the generations behind me. All I knew was that I believed with my whole heart that the cross would drive him away.
Cross in hand I turned over to face my attacker. No one was there.
I heard a scream. It was my mother. I plunged into blackness.
My parents and later the police asked me over and over to try to remember who had grabbed me and made the marks on my shoulder and back, but I couldn’t remember. The last thing I could remember was looking at the cross on the floor, making out the pattern of charms. I didn’t remember the light, I didn’t remember the steps. I didn’t remember him.
I suddenly thought of Rosaline. The next time I returned to the tomb she gave me a charm and told me to keep it in my pocket at all times. I think I did for a year or so.
What ever happened to it?
Despite the hour I went into the attic and found a box from my childhood.
It was in there. I brought it into the light and looked closely. It was just a circle with an equal-sided cross. In the middle of the cross was a bird. I couldn’t tell what type. I closed my eyes and thought back to the cross drawn on the floor and the charms. This was the charm from the head of the stairs. It was the charm I had thrown into the man’s face.
“Are you OK?” Bethy asked as I came back into the bedroom. “It’s almost four. What have been doing?”
“Sorry, I had to find some stuff. I’m fine now,” I said. “Just go back to sleep.”
I got back into bed and closed my eyes. My hand tightened around the charm it was holding. I would never go out without it again.