BY AL BRUNO III
Thursday November 14th 1996
When Galen returned to Laurel House Jack Waterford was waiting for him. The tall, thin man was wearing a tool belt and had his shoulder-length blonde hair tied back with a bit of string. “Repairs?” Galen asked.
“Upkeep.” Jack replied his voice had a slight Irish brogue, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
A group of sparrows had made their home in a corner of the room nearest the solarium; they twittered and chirped among themselves. A single cloud slipped across the sun sending a shadow arcing across the lodge. The light dusting of snow had already begun to evaporate but it was still enough to show two trails of footprints heading east Galen stared after them, “Where did Warren go?”
“For a walk.”
“Don’t worry Hao is with him. She hasn’t lost a guest yet.” Jack smiled, “And I think you dodged my question.”
“Sorry.” Galen said, “But the manse was right where you said it would be. The mural was in perfect shape.”
“If you say so.”
“You’ve never been there?”
“Not my place.” Jack headed for the gazebo, “Come on, we’ll eat while we talk. Do you like roast beef?”
They had to brush a little snow off the wood steps of the gazebo before they could sit. Jack had an old fashioned lunchbox with four sandwiches and three beers; he handed one of each to Galen. “Feeling settled in?” Jack asked.
“I think this is the calmest things have been for me in years.” Galen unwrapped the wax paper from the sandwich. There were designs of elaborate and flowing nonsense carved into the wooden structure.
Or maybe it wasn’t nonsense, there was so much Galen didn’t know about this place; perhaps that was why he had avoided it on his travels.
“How did the Culann place look?”
“Empty. A lot of old blood on the walls of the upstairs rooms. The nursery… where they might have tried to hide. It didn’t seem like there was much of a fight at all.”
Jack nodded with a distant expression, “The day it happened. At least the day I think it happened, it was February. Heavy snow everywhere, it was beautiful. I was in the solarium with Roxanne, we were playing poker. There is this crash in the kitchen and when we went to go find out what happened we saw Lydia on the floor just choking and thrashing around.”
“She was one of you Galen, and like you she’d come to us because she had nowhere else to go. Suddenly there she was dying on the kitchen floor next to what was left of her chicken casserole.” Jack took a long swig from his beer, “I left Roxanne with her while I ran to find Bodivar. I happened to look out one of the windows and I could see these black veins working their way through the snow.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know for sure. It was like the ground was cracking open to let all this nothing out.”
“So,” Galen finished his sandwich. “What happened then?”
Jack offered him another one, “You eat pretty damn fast you know that?”
“An acquired habit.”
Wind chimes were hung at regular intervals around the structure, they chimed gently.
“Anyway, whatever they did. It lasted until morning then it was like it never happened, all that was left were these funny trails going through the snow. Of course it took about three springs for anything to grow in those spots. I built benches and this Gazebo to put over the worst of it.”
“Then how do you even know what happened?” Galen took a big bite out of a fresh sandwich.
“In the morning Hao came stumbling out of the woods.” Jack said, “She got lucky and got out of the house. I guess the servants weren’t the Monarch’s biggest concern.”
“She’s half-breed?” Galen cast an uncomfortable look to the house.
“Mixed heritage you mean?” There was something sharp in Jack’s tone, “She told us everything that happened. Whatever had darkened the snow had sickened High-Born and Common-Born. It must have been some kind of chemical weapon.”
“Of course it was.” Galen said darkly.
“Men dressed in dark fatigues stormed the house. They fought like men but didn’t die like them. The Culanns were too sickened to mount a defense, not that the Monarchs were looking for a battle. They were just cleaning house,”
Galen finished his meal in silence, washing his sandwiches down with two of the three beers. Then he asked, “What happened to Lydia?”
“She recovered but she said she was never the same after that night. She slit her wrists with an anelace.” Jack finished his own beer, “I flayed her and buried her bones back there in the garden. I think that’s the tradition isn’t it?”
Jack closed up his lunch box and hefted his tool belt, “Back to work for me, there are a few loose shingles I need to take a look at.”
“All right.” Galen said, “Could I see where you buried her?”
“You didn’t know her did you?” Jack asked.
“No.” Galen stood and, “Where is she?”
“To your right. Can’t miss it even in the snow.” Jack said from his perch on the roof of Laurel House.
That was fast. Galen marveled after him, I didn’t even hear him move away.
And there was no sign of a ladder anywhere.