(Yes, this is written in British English. It also has no dialogue and is a super dark memoir. I don’t know how this is a thing I wrote, honestly. I don’t usually do horror.)
It’s been thirty years. Thirty years and the police have not discovered the truth. Thirty years and the mystery of what happened to Thomas Yearly is still a mystery. And the little town of Hathshire Creek has forgotten him. I recently visited his headstone and the flowers are months, maybe a year, old. No one goes back. Who would? It’s been thirty years. There are newer things to worry about. The townsfolk chatter about those new things: the war, the meagre rations, and the new singer at the local tavern who just might be from Germany.
But I remember. We grew up together, Thomas and I, in those old brick homes that stand in ruins on the far side of town. They are the haunted houses that the children play in, the ones the city promised to tear down this year, the ones with the wicked thorns and overgrown hedges. They used to be our homes. And they were beautiful homes, with open foyers, the gardens connected, and a little arbour with a swing. Tom used to push me in the swing, the roses blooming in summer, gay violets sunning themselves in a cool breeze. Tom and Stacy, his sister, lived as much on our side of that white gate as I lived on theirs.
Tom was a year older than me, a handsome young lad I remember, with starry eyes and dark hair. Stacy was my age and a pretty child; she was the fair type who one is sure will have suitors lined up for miles when she grows up. She and I were always best friends. We’d plan our lives out together, and when we married, we’d live in the same houses, side by side, sharing suppers and taking our children on picnics together. It would be our parents and the four of us: Tom and I, and Stacy and whoever was lucky enough to have her.
Tom and I were sweet-hearts for as long as my memory goes back. I used to write “Mrs. Tom Yearly” on my school reports when I was in nursery school. Of course I stopped as the years flew by and the other children started to tease me of it. We had our first kiss on that swing. He’d stopped swinging me and asked if he could kiss me. I said yes. We were only ten, after all.
Our mothers, they say, saw that kiss. And they busied themselves with dreaming of our wedding day. I would dream about his proposal and the dress I would wear. Our fathers would sit in the parlour, wearing their breeches and monocles, their moustaches identical, talking of politics and the world.
It was a perfect life until that dreadful year. I was seventeen, then. Tom was eighteen. Stacy did have her suitors. William was the one I favoured. I told her as much, so she favoured him as well. We thought a double wedding would be perfect.
All the neighbourhood knows is that a few months later, the white gate became a cast-iron fence, with the sprawling ground cut off in the middle by an evil wall. We didn’t make an appearance at most parties, and at the debutante ball that year, Tom and I had come separately, nary a word said.
All I remember was Tom and Stacy’s mother sitting me down one day and explaining what happened. My father watched, with his cold eye, the passionate woman talking in passionate words. Some old love letters had surfaced. It seems that Stacy was not Tom’s father’s child, but my father’s. Her mother told us everything. It was the reason that we were both blonde, while Tom was brown-haired, and the reason why we were so close. We were half-sisters. A part of me was joyful. I felt joy that my mother had died without knowing and perhaps a little at the fact we were related by blood.
Tom’s father was, of course, furious. But he stood outwardly by his wife, a stoic, stubborn, but scrupled old man until the end. Forgiveness was too much to ask and his wife knew it. But patience and duty were his virtues. I talked it all over with Stacy. Mr. Yearly was more a father to me than my own was. I hated my father. I had loved my mother and I did not understand how my father could have been so heartless. Stacy and I were born only two months apart. He had basically been with both women at the same time.
Stacy chastised her mother for it. Over and over again, she would say it, in starkly honest words. My mother had been Mrs. Yearly’s best friend. How could she? Mr. Yearly, poor old man, could not distance himself from Stacy, though he tried. She was not his daughter after all. But she loved him. And now she hated her real mother and father. I used to hear her voice, loud and angry, in the wee hours of the morning, and her mother would scream back that she had always known Stacy was a mistake. I would go and comfort her. Tom would try to help, too. But I could see in his eyes that he was struggling to love Stacy as he had before.
Then Mrs. Yearly committed suicide. One day she was just hanging in her room with the noose around her neck and her veins blue. Stacy had been in the middle of a huge row that Mr. and Mrs. Yearly had had the night before and the missus had wished her husband dead. I had been there and I saw the colour drain from Stacy’s face. She had turned around and said she’d rather see her mother dead. Several times over. Tom had slapped her.
Now Mrs. Yearly was, indeed, dead. Mr. Yearly’s heart grew sicker and sicker by the day. Thomas openly spoke the cruellest of words to his sister, or half-sister as she now was, for in his eyes, it was her wish that had killed his mother. He could not forgive her, no matter how I begged. And so, in the end he told me to choose him or Stacy. How could he marry me if I would always be close to his mother’s killer?
Mr. Yearly understood him. It was hard to live with all the pain. Why couldn’t we marry and leave the town? He said it would be his dying wish. Tom and I should marry and live in another place, maybe London. Stacy could stay with her real father, my father, until she married. William, gallant young lad, stuck by her the entire time.
Maybe a few years later, we could all come back and be together again. Maybe we could then live without our parents, exactly as we had imagined it, ignoring the dark cloud from the past that settled on our lives. We all agreed.
And then, that night came. A strange dark alley, a twisted tree drooping over the entrance was the place. Near midnight was the time. Stacy and I were walking with William when the thug jumped us, scars and all. A knife gleamed in his hand and he left us ladies alone. But he forced William to give him his watch, his wallet, and his gold cufflinks.
Stacy saw what it all meant in an instant and tried to attack him from behind. The reader may not understand why a young English miss should so behave. But, you see, William’s family was well-to-do only in the vapid sort of way. They had a lovely manor, but they had only life-interest in it, and they had suffered severe losses on the stocks the last year. His mother and father were both sick, his mother frightfully so, and he had taken all the precious things they saved to get pawned. His wallet alone had a good sum of money in it. All he had was on his person and bereft of it, he would have no money for medical bills. His parents would die.
So Stacy attacked, the brave young spirit that she was. The thug’s knife flashed in a sudden blast of lightning and I was stricken with fear. I might not have mentioned that a thunderstorm was brewing. But it was. I ran. I was scared and I ran. I saw a policeman only later and then went towards him. But at first, I had just run for safety, deserting Stacy. I had deserted my sister.
When the policeman and I returned, his ruddy face puffing on a whistle attached by a long gold chain to his breast-pocket, the thug had run off. William was bending over Stacy, sobbing. She was alive – that was the worst of it – she was alive. Her face was a ruin, the bottom of the nose and lip cut at a cruel angle, blood pouring out of it. She had screamed and fallen unconscious.
The doctor saved her, but not her face. The suitors all dropped away, all but William. He stayed, as true to her as a man could be. Stacy told him not to, to marry better, but he stayed. And if the reader thinks that he stayed for the money, now that his was all gone, and because she was a wealthy heiress with a sick father, I have only to say that I have never seen a man more in love with a girl than he was. His own character spoke against such an abominable accusation.
Tom took care of Stacy. It seemed that all would get better in time. Mr. Yearly was on his deathbed. It was hopeful that after a time my father – for I still could not forgive him – would be on his deathbed too. The new generation could live out of the shadow of sin.
But then Mr. Yearly died. It all happened so quickly after that. Tom and I were married – oh, how happy that day was! – and Stacy and Will were there, a veil shrouding her face. The new debutante’s aunt, Lady DuBois, had but recently come from the States and even she had graced the wedding. She brought her daughter, Eloise, with her, a young lass who like her mother retained the passion and intensity of Spanish blood.
My wedding was the day she fell in love with William. It happened in an instant, like a shot to the chest, as it always happens with that sort of a woman. In the next few weeks, her parents offered riches beyond imagination, an old estate in a nearby county – there were countless earls and dukes in the DuBois family – and everything else that a young couple most definitely did not need. Yet I thought it – of course, I shouldn’t have, but the Lord will forgive me! – that perhaps Will would leave Stacy. I worried and wondered. But he didn’t. His character forbade it. And the date was set for their wedding, Will and Stacy’s, that is, in a couple of months.
Tom and I took our honeymoon in the countryside. I no longer remember where we travelled exactly, but it was all so lovely, and one could smell the ocean from the cottage we eventually settled into. The gardens had the loveliest flowers and it reminded me of my youth. Tom was such a handsome gentlemen, always attending to me and looking at me in the most wonderful ways. The only strange event happened one night, as his hansom pulled up one evening – he’d been into town that day – and he had alighted, the horse pawing at the cobblestone. He had asked me to always forgive his sins, whatever they would be. I knew they wouldn’t be anything to worry of, so I said I would, and I asked the favour in return. His eyes were serious, I remember, but he had said he would forgive my sins as well. So all was good.
When we came back, all I recall was the old, grey lawyer at our house – for, it was, now, our house – motioning us in. Stacy was there, her veil off, the memory of the night gashed across her face, and the pallor of her skin standing in stark contrast to it. Mr. Yearly had left the whole estate and all its proceeds to Tom. It was the custom in those days, hardly a surprise, and Tom had sworn to take care of his sister. But I saw it in his eyes, and in hers, that it was not to be.
Tom simply refused. No matter how I begged, or she, for a little money to start anew, he would not give it. I told him, by marriage, half was mine and I would give it to Stacy. But he said I would not dare – perhaps, it was true – and that legally he had it neatly done so I couldn’t. And, anyway, there was only interest in the estate and there were the lender’s hawks on our backs. Surely, we did not expect him to sell the estate, did we?
But I told Tom we had to. We had to sell. Stacy and Will needed the money for their wedding and for Will’s parents. He said he would pay for the wedding – he was a dutiful brother, surely – but for no more. Will may not stay with us. He may not collect the interest. It was not his money. And Tom would not sell. Stacy, he said, had already taken enough from his father and, also, killed his mother. He told her to ask her own father, if she wanted, my father.
She did, brave little soul. We had not talked to him since my wedding and we had not wanted to. He was hardly repentant about anything and he had been tough as a horseshoe on dirt growing up. I would have been too scared to face him. But she did. And he refused. He refused to give her, ugly little wench, even a cent. She wouldn’t respect him as a father, so how dare she ask him for money now? What he said was true, and we both knew it, but her future was at stake. He did not care.
One day, a week or so before Stacy and Will’s wedding, it was called off. The family doctor could not take any more debt on his shoulders. He needed the money for Will’s mother’s medicine. If there was no money, he would be – with full regrets, of course! – forced to stop treatment. So Will discussed the matter with Stacy and decided to marry Eloise DuBois. Perhaps it was the right decision, but Stacy was heart-broken. I begged Tom to sell the property, but he would not. His mother had told him not to, he said. And she especially would not have wanted it to be sold for Stacy.
So he did not sell. Will was to be married in a month! Stacy and I went down to the lawyer’s, one day, to read the will. I do not know why we did so, but we thought, perhaps, Mr. Yearly had left something to her or to me. But no, it was as Tom had said. Everything went to Tom and he could do as he wished with it. If he died in the next five years, then and only then, it would go to Stacy.
And so, when Tom did die, his body found in the pool by the arbour, and I found near him, holding the pistol that had killed him confusedly, screaming until I could not scream anymore, Stacy became the prime suspect. I told the police everything I could. I had gone for my morning walk. Yes, I had heard a sound like a door slam earlier in the morning, but the pool was close to the woods and so far from my bedroom. When I found him, I had picked the pistol up, like the foolish woman I was, not thinking that a clue may be on it. Perhaps a finger print had been, the chief inspector said, finger print recognition was a new thing they were trying. No two people had the same print.
The questions continued. No, Tom had no will and no, he had no enemies, other than his creditors who had threatened to kill him only the night before. I had heard the argument through the wall. They would kill him if he exposed them. Tom, the gallant gentleman that he was, refused to cooperate and said that if they killed him, he still had ways to make sure Scotland Yard found out. If they kept him alive, he’d let them go, but they’d have to leave the country and not come back to bother him or the town. But Inspector Byron found they had a fool-proof alibi. They were, it is true, arrested for their shady dealings on the continent, three months later, but they still denied killing Tom. And they still had their alibi.
Stacy and I were suspects at first. Of course, my name was cleared soon enough. I had loved – and will always love – him. I was the one who had drawn attention to the murder. I had no reason to kill him. They asked questions, only because they had found a little piece of my dress, a torn, fluffy, pink strip, on the swing. It had matched the dress I wore that morning and not the one I had worn the previous day. There had been a light rain the previous night, but it wasn’t soiled. So they thought, at first, that I had swung on the swing that morning. I had not wanted to talk of it. But I told them the truth. Yes, I had swung. I told them I hadn’t seen the body until later. I had thought my husband was at home. They found Tom’s footprints still behind the swing. Inspector Byron had thought they were fresh, but even the mention of it brought me to tears again, so they never repeated it. Again I told them the truth. He had swung me there the evening before. It was, indeed, only the evening before. How one’s life can change in a day!
Stacy was then suspected, because everything went to her in the will. And she was as strong and foolhardy – and capable of murder, so the townsfolk whispered – as I was weak and fragile. But her character was above reproach. To aid her case, I swore that I’d seen her still asleep as I went on my walk that morning. Stacy always doubted that I really had, and that I was just protecting her, since she didn’t have an alibi. But it was true. It was also true that Tom and she had had a row the previous evening about their mother, but I didn’t say that. And I really had seen her before my walk. The door was slightly closed, but I’d opened it, and she was sleeping, as she always was, with one arm under the pillow.
So they were left with no suspects. Stacy was heartbroken, as was I. Much of the town was. Tom was every other girl’s sweetheart and had been the favourite of teachers and the nobility. He was a good man. The whole town turned out for his funeral to say something or the other about what a good man he had been.
Will had come, too, with Stacy. He’d called off the wedding to Eloise, now that Stacy had the money. We were going to sell the estate, anyway. How could we live there now, with all the evil memories? The children of the town today are right. It is a haunted, cursed house.
Will and Stacy did not get married for another few months, but marry they did. And I left, to live in the cottage Tom and I had spent our honeymoon in, living on the little money that Stacy and Will provided me.
I only moved back last year, to be closer to them and their children, now that my own husband had died. The reader may be surprised I married again, but what else is a woman to do if she is on her own? I did not love him, but neither did he love me. It was a good marriage.
Thomas’s gravestone is still there, a premature slab of grey on the top of the hill. The arbour is there too, and the children say that sometimes, late in the evening, when the shadows dance on the walls of the ivy-covered house, it will swing sadly. I remember when that story was started. It was the old pastor’s eulogy of Tom. He said he had gone back to the house the previous evening and he could swear – he really could! – that the swing had been moving. Tom, he said, was back to push it for me. As he always had been. As he always would be.
All I could do was cry. I hadn’t even given a eulogy for Tom. A widow who said not a word at her husband’s funeral is all I was.
So, Thomas Yearly, years later, the eulogy I never gave, the eulogy I could not give all those years ago: here it is! Tom, I love you. I have always loved you. You were such a good man and a good husband. But you could not forgive Stacy, no matter how I begged. She was my best friend. She was my sister.
It’s been thirty years. Thirty years and the police have not discovered the truth, and the old files are now rotting in the Inspector’s desk.
I killed Thomas Yearly.
(c) Isvari Mohan, 2014