Disclaimers: This is yet another uber tale of my making. Technically the characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal, but since it's not REALLY X&G here... well anyway, these uber characters belong to me, me memememe....so, copyright 1999 Tragedy88 and all that.
Violence/language: Um, some violence, some bad language... maybe a pg-13 so far?
Subtext: You betcha! Oh, if it's illegal where you live or love between members of the same sex offends you please read elsewhere.
And last but not least: How, you ask, can so many of my characters exist within the same timeline? Easy, I write what I know. In this case I know farms, horses, and the hardships of being alone. In anycase it's a divergence from my usual cops, gangs, lusty/evil uber Callistos' etc., etc. etc... :)
Feedback is very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."- Harriet Beecher Stowe
Hmmm, Alex trailed up and down the hallway one more time, which room? Which room? Yick... ok, none of the upstairs rooms, it's a freezer up there... this one? No, I still have to fix that damn... wait, she'll like this one.
It was almost empty, but it was just down the hall from Alex's study. She wondered if there was an ulterior motive, and not just that it was one of the few rooms with a working fireplace.
The window on the back wall looked out into the snow covered fields, shining brilliant back into the room. A faded rose pattern, stereotypical of old farmhouses, covered the walls.
"This is nice." Dusty surprised her from the doorway.
She jumped a little. "Yeah. Wanna help me get one of the beds from upstairs?"
"I'd suggest wearing a coat up there," Alex said as Dusty turned towards the door, "it's like an ice box."
"Ok, meet you at the stairs." And Dusty was gone, silent as a panther stalking it's prey.
Alex shivered and shrugged into her own coat, grabbed the heavy rubber mallet from the pantry shelf and met Dusty on the stairs.
"This one's good." Alex pointed into a large, yellow papered room with a shrug. "It's still intact atleast."
"Alright, let's get to work."
After an hour long struggle with the mallet, frame, stairs and mattress they finally had it downstairs in Dusty's temporary new room. Granted, it was all still in pieces, but it was all finally there.
Alex groaned and flattened herself out the on the floor, opening her jacket and fanning the inside with it. They'd worked up a considerable sweat going up and down and cursing the heavy mattress.
Dusty joined her on the floor, shedding her own coat and using it as a pillow. "Damn, if I knew it was gonna be this much work I'd have volunteered to sleep on the floor."
"Sure," Alex drawled, smiling up at the ceiling, "and wake up with your butt frozen to the floor? I don't think so." She chuckled and Dusty joined in.
Alex sat up and surveyed the nearly empty room. An antique lamp rested on the floor and an old rocker and now the bed were it's only other occupants.
"In the room across the hall is a mass of furniture and stuff. Go ahead and help yourself. I think I can handle putting this monster back together."
Dusty stood and sauntered lazily to the door. "Ok, gimme a holler if you need help."
"Will do." Alex was already rearranging the frame for easier reconstruction.
Dusty eagerly opened the door to the quasi storage room. She'd only gotten a brief glimpse on the room on the tour yesterday and had been instantly intrigued by the mess inside.
Curiosity killed the cat, she grinned wickedly as she stepped around some crates to what promised to be the most promising pile.
After an extensive and dirty search of the room she'd found a wooden bench approximately the same width as the bed, with a faded cushion that might have, at one time, been considered a rose color. There was also the twin of the other lamp, yet to be seen if it worked, a solid oak table stained a rich red brown, maybe a foot and half in width and long enough to sit under the window. She'd pushed these items over to a spot she'd cleared earlier and continued her search.
She was searching with Alex's earlier statement in mind. When she'd commented about renting the rooms out. Fix this one up now and Alex wouldn't have to do it later. Something for over the fireplace maybe?
Strange, not a single set of dressers in this room, and I don't remember seeing any upstairs. I'll have to ask Alex about that.
By the time Alex poked her head into the room Dusty had acquired a clock for the mantle, a fireplace grate, two silver candle sticks, a high backed, mahogany lounge and was unearthing the last item.
"'Bout ready for lunch?" Alex found Dusty's long frame contorted around a crate and half behind a shattered mirror.
"Jus sec mmm foun' somethin'..." Dusty struggled back, carefully pulling out a large painting. She held it up triumphantly. "What do you think? Right over the fireplace?"
"Cool, it'll look great. Find everything you need?"
"And them some, except for a chest of drawers. Actually I don't remember seeing any anywhere. Are there some upstairs?"
"Nope. Not one."
"Seems rather strange, doesn't it?" Dusty inquired as she placed the painting with the rest of the pile.
"Not when you know the story and the reason why." Alex lead the way back to the kitchen, Dusty tagging along brushing off the dust in billowing clouds.
"Are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess?" She smiled at Alex with eager curiosity as they began fixing soup and sandwiches for lunch.
"My aunt told me the story when I was a child. It scared me for years afterward, but I don't believe it anymore."
"Why not?" Dusty interrupted.
"I'll tell the story and you tell me if you believe it when I'm done, ok?"
They sat with soup and sandwiches in the quiet kitchen. The house seemed to settle down and listen as well, adding an eeriness to Alex's opening words.
"In 1752 Samuel Jacobson touched his plow to this cursed ground for the first time. He scoured the land of every rock, and cut down nearly every tree to build the foundation and house, later known as Raven's End.
"Ten hired men built and plowed for two years before he sent for his wife and three children. Four of those men died here and were buried in the woods half a mile from the house. In those days a large farm house was not unheard of, but a three story, fifty room semi mansion was.
"No one, to this day, knows where his money came from or how he could afford to ship thousands of books to his personal library, order the best furniture in the colonies, raise twenty of the best horses, and obtain the finest silks and perfumes for his wife.
"The eldest boy, then seven, had the fastest horse in the county and three counties beyond. His middle child, a girl, had tiny parasols from France, and her own servant. The youngest son, by far the favorite, at the tender age of three, had canvasses and paints from the finest places in Paris. The painting you found was his."
"No shit?" Dusty blinked.
"No shit, he was a child prodigy, a genius if you will with paints."
"None of this explains the 'no dresser policy'." Dusty wondered outloud.
"I'm getting to that," Alex grinned, caught up in the story telling mode.
"Anyway, they'd lived in the house no more then a year. Alexandria was with child and three more workers were dead. Bringing the death toll up to seven."Good heavens," Dusty said softly. "He's going to kill them all, isn't he?"
"Samuel had hitched the horses and traveled into town with one of the three remaining hired men, to pick up his latest shipment of books, silks, perfumes and goodies. The trip would take atleast a week.
"Don't get me wrong now, there were hardships like on any farm back then. Cattle disease, a harsh winter, a ruined crop... the usual. It wasn't all glamorous, especially for the fragile Alexandria.
"She was having a much more difficult pregnancy this time. Only four months into the pregnancy and she was bedridden. Samuel hated to leave her but he didn't trust the help to acquire the new shipment. So with great protest he left his young, sickly wife and spoiled children with the last two hired men..
"A couple days after Samuel left Alexandria had started to bleed. Joshua, the youngest hired man, was quickly sent to town to fetch the midwife." Alex paused with a slight shiver at her own memories of a stillborn, blood and death.
"Alexandria was hemorrhaging and the young maid couldn't stop it. The baby was born dead and it's mother took her last breath. If only the midwife had arrived, but Joshua had never made it to town. A stranger had found him on the road, caught and killed him for the sheer pleasure of it. Stripped him naked, beat him and left him for dead, after Joshua had begged for a ride to the midwives.
"The stranger got more then he bargained for when he found that women and children were less then a mile away, unguarded except for one man.
"He took to his dark stallion, riding through the twilight, the smell of death still on his cloths." Alex raised her eyes to Dusty's face, rapt with attention, food forgotten.
"No." Alex focused her attention away from those piercing blue eyes and began the tale again.
"The stranger rode to the farmhouse, pleading illness and fatigue. He requested a safe haven for the night and it was granted. He was given the privilege of a guest room right in the farmhouse. He congratulated himself for wearing fine clothes and speaking as a proper gentlemen. No sneaking into the house for him.
"Though distressed to find the wife had died in childbirth it's said he helped to bury her and lay her soul to rest.
"He took a day, being as the next was Sunday, to console the family and their hearts to him. Even crueler for the insane rage that was to follow the day after.
"The first he disposed of was the last hired man. He did the same to him as he had to Joshua, but hung him from the barn rafters, taking perverse pleasure in carving a raven on his bare chest. Thus ensuring the name Raven's End for generations to come." Alex's own lunch was long forgotten.
"The eldest boy, Trevor, entered then, intent on finding the stranger and showing off his riding skills. Needless to say he never got that chance.
"Caught in that moment of bloodlust, power and rage the boy was helpless to escape. Many years later some people would try to believe that the murderer had never meant to kill the child. That if the boy had only arrived later he would have been spared the rage and encountered that calm aura that comes after a kill. I don't think so anyway, the stranger had no soul, no conscience that would ensure peace.
"He snapped the boy's small neck and carried him like a treasured nephew to the screaming arms of the maids. Said he'd been riding and was thrown from his horse. The maids called for Isaac, but of course he was dead. They wrapped the boys body for burial.
"The stranger was restless for more blood, for the release into a warm, screaming body beneath him.
"Samuel was due back in two days, no more waiting. Alicia and Browning were napping in their room, unawakened by the screams. The stranger cornered the older maid as she went to the barn for the shovels.
"He raped and mutilated her body while her horror filled eyes could not be torn from Isaac. They would have been married in the spring.
"After slitting her throat he went to the house for the other maid, far younger and prettier. He would take her with him for a nights pleasure. But as he was tying her up Alicia, the middle child, with the soft downy hair and sea-green eyes, stumbled into the room, awakened from sleep by a nightmare. Poor children, they have quite the reputation for interrupting at the worst possible time."
"I'll say." Dusty breathed, entranced and horrified. "But the dresser-"
"I'm getting to that." She waved her hand in the air, shushing Dusty. "He stabbed her and stuck her in the dresser drawer-"
"Shhh. I'm not finished yet."
"S'ok. He stuffed Alicia in the dresser, and was dragging the maid out when he heard the crunch of wagon wheels on gravel. Samuel had returned early, worried about his young wife-"
"Hope he caught and killed the son of a bitch." Dusty interrupted again.
"No, he didn't and he never would. James, the last hired man, almost caught him but got his ear sliced off for his trouble. Samuel searched the house and found the maid, bound, in shock, and traumatized into silence."My god, he killed his son. He thought the killer had come back?" Dusty's eyes had paled to an icy blue.
"No one is entirely sure what happened next. The maid and the hired man were sent to town to get the sheriff.
"Some say Samuel saw the tiny curls sticking out of the dresser, some say it was the corner of her dress. His scream of outrage woke poor little Browning, and not to be outdone by his older brother and sister, he entered the room, startling his father.
"When the sheriff found them the little boy's head had been snapped clean off by the corner of a dresser drawer striking him in the forehead. Samuel was found, consumed by grief, rocking the boy in his arms. 'I didn't know. I didn't know,' where the last words he said."
"Apparently. After that he burned every dresser and even the barn. He would have burned the house down but the doctor was sent for and he was taken away."
"Ok, now at the beginning of the story you said you didn't believe it. Why not?"
"Oh, I believe every bit of the story, because it was all written in the maids diary and in the files of the town's history, complete with newspaper clippings." Alex nodded to herself, memories of reading it when she was a child when she had visited her aunt, coming back to haunt her.
"Then, what? I missed something?" Dusty's eyebrows knit together as she went back over the story in her mind.
"What I don't believe is the myths, rumors, whatever that came later. Tales of ghosts haunting the place and stuff. Restless spirits. No one's been able to live here long without dying, or leaving in a big hurry. They've seen terrible things here that have happened throughout the centuries. Some have even claimed to hear the children crying late at night."
"Have- have you heard them?"
"Nothing but the wailing of the wind and the settling of the house." Alex shrugged.
Dusty finally leaned back in her chair, stretching the stiffness out of her back. "Wouldn't other families bring dressers though?" She asked reasonably.
"Many have tried and failed. My own aunt's sister, the oldest one, not my mother, suffered severe brain damage when a dresser mysteriously fell over and pinned her beneath it." Her mother and sister had probably been horsing around and knocked it over themselves and had been terrified enough to blame it on non- existent ghosts "No dressers were allowed in the house after that."
"Wow, pretty scary."
"The place has a history. That I can feel." Alex admitted with another shrug of her shoulders. They finished their sandwiches, bypassing the now cold soup. "I'm gonna take Jack for another run,. Do you want any help with the furniture before I go?"
"I can handle it, thanks for the offer."
"Be back in a few hours. There are clean sheets in the hall closet." Alex called over her shoulder as she set her dishes in the sink on her way out. She wandered out to the barn, her thoughts on crying children, blood and death. So much had gone wrong... for so many people here. What if there was a curse? And what if it now involved Dusty? She shut the past and the memories out of her mind, and saddled Jack for a long, exhausting ride.
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