(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
The Hansor Grounds were on the far edge of town. There was a school—raggedy, covered in snow, and falling apart at the seams—a rusted playground, and the old Hansor Manor. It was here that James Fortright stood, his eyes tilted upward and his brow curved in concentration. Hansor Manor reached three stories, and unlike other houses in the small town of Woodton it looked like a relic from a time that never existed, at least not for anyone that had ever lived in the town. From the front, Hansor looked like a massive church. A tall stained glass window filled the space above the door, which had been boarded up and covered in condemned signs, while the sides curved up into a giant point. At the top of that point was a twisted weather vane that at one time had been the form of a snake. Now, after many years of abuse, it had contorted into an unrecognizable scrap of metal. Hansor stretched a hundred feet back and everything but the front resembled a giant cigar made of stone. What remained of the gold and white paint barely stuck to the walls.
James focused on the stained glass as if he hoped to see something there in the bland, featureless colors. But the glass was blank except for the brilliant red and purple colors. He found it odd that someone had built such a magnificent structure and had left the most eye-catching piece featureless. The sky began to darken as thick gray clouds crawled in. Another snowstorm was coming.
James was eleven. He had dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and an otherwise distant nature. His face was long and thin, and it matched his equally thin body—tall and gangly. He had one friend. One true friend.
A quick wind flung snow and ice-cold air into his face. He shifted his weight, tucked himself farther in his winter jacket, pulled the festive blue and green cap down over his ears and resumed staring.
“I think there’s something wrong with those windows,” came a familiar voice, interrupting him.
He turned, faced Laura, and smiled.
“I always feel like the builders left something out. Left it unfinished or something.”
He nodded. “So what was this you wanted to show me?”
She beamed up at him. He was a good foot taller than her, but she was always able to look him in the eye without standing on her toes. “Overheard Gil talking about some neat stuff he found in there,” she indicated the manor, “Figure we could take a look.”
“That’s breaking and entering.”
“Only if you get caught. Besides, we’ll only be a minute.”
Laura ran a few steps playfully toward Hansor Manor. James watched her. They had been friends for longer than he could remember, a friendship of opposites—Laura the adventurous type and James the logical type. Yet, James recalled, it was always adventure that won the argument, never logic. It had always seemed to James like a strange twist of fate that he had befriended someone such as Laura, but he enjoyed her company, even when things went wrong.
Quietly, slowly, he followed, one cautious step at a time. Laura hopped left, then right, digging her green boots into the snow. Her short sandy blonde hair was tucked into an emerald green fleece cap with a red and black stripe along the rim.
They wound around the side, Laura bouncing about. He eyed the boarded windows and doors, all covered in condemned signs. As far as he could remember, Hansor Manor had always been condemned. Always. James gathered that the owners didn’t care about the place. He also couldn’t recall who the current owners were. There had been a story in the local paper that said it had been passed down from father to son three times, and a total of four times before that among private parties. After that, the records were blank. Nobody even knew who had built it.
Something tickled the back of his neck. He chose to ignore it by habit. Around the back was a broken window. A hill of snow made a perfect slope to the base giving easy access to whatever was inside. The wood that had blocked this window had been shredded and chucked aside. James looked inside and saw footprints. They were fresh, no more than a day old. The mud and snow from the prints had not completely frozen over yet.
“Careful of the edges,” Laura said. She grabbed the side of the window and slipped smoothly through the opening.
James crept up to the edge. He knelt down and maneuvered himself feet first into the opening. With one grip supporting his weight against the snow and the other on the outside of the window, he reached for solid ground, reaching farther when he couldn’t find it, and farther still.
His grip didn’t hold. The snow gave way and he tumbled through, tearing his jacket on the jagged remnants of glass. He landed with a squishy thud on the wood floor of a bedroom.
“Ow!” he said. A small trickle of blood fell from the fresh cut on his arm.
Laura leaned in close. “That must’ve hurt.”
“Let’s go home. I need a bandage for this.” He pulled himself to his feet, winced. Taking another glance at the wound he said, “I might need stitches for this…”
Laura frowned. “Oh alright. Can we at least look around for a second?” She turned away from him, grabbed something from a nearby table. “Here.” She wrapped a blood red cloth over his wound, then tightened it. A jolt of stinging pain ran up his arm. He bit his lip. “Just for a second James. Honest. Besides it’s not deep enough for stitches.” She looked at him in the same way a mother looks at her child.
James sighed and gave in. “Alright, but not too long.”
She grinned appreciatively and gave him a nod.
The bedroom they had landed into had been left completely furnished. There was a large bed with sheets and an old quilt, tucked tightly and straight, in the center of the room. Next to that were a long cherry wood dresser and a walk-in closet on the opposite side. James looked at the pictures on the walls. They were old, ancient even, black and white. He didn’t recognize anyone, but got the impression that they had been in a book some place. Laura scooted away and began fumbling with the little additions to the room—statues, music boxes, and the like. She opened the dresser drawers, plucked at the old dusty clothing inside, and then moved on. Every time Laura moved something, dust exploded into the air before delicately settling again.
James kept his hands to himself. He moved around the room examining things by sight. He got the feeling that the pictures were watching him, as if the little people inside were real. When he looked, there was nothing and he dismissed the feeling to the back of his mind. Still, an eerie touch hit his neck, stronger than before. Whatever it was he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He moved over to the dresser and began examining the dust-ridden items resting on top. There were strange statues of animals and people, pictures and strips of cloth. He examined the cloth wrapped around his wound. His blood had seeped through, leaving a darker red stain on the already blood red cloth. But it wasn’t the blood that interested him. Sewn into the cloth was a symbol, a set of four tails of some sort of sea animal woven together into a spiral. He recognized it and began searching his memory for any information he could.
“Laura, come look at this,” he said.
Laura hustled over, hopping again. “Well that’s a neat design,” she said.
“It’s Celtic. Saint Brendan’s Cross.”
“He was an Irish monk. Spent seven years at sea to find a place called the Land of Promise. At least according to legend. Some say the place he discovered was America.”
“People believe silly things.”
“Yeah, but look at all these. They all have Celtic symbols on them.” He began flipping through the other clothes. “Here’s a Celtic weave,” he said, pointing to a design of interlocking curves that spanned all four sides. Leafing through he found more designs, all sewn into the fabric. They had been done by hand, thread by thread. And they were well done. He could tell that they were the work of someone with considerable skill.
“What about this one?” Laura produced a small bag made of dark red satin with a golden drawstring around the opening. The string was pulled taut and tied in a thick knot. In the center of the bag was a large symbol sewn in dark blue. The outside edges formed a wide circle broken in four parts, while inside, divided in fourths, were triangles, the lines woven unicursally to form one continuous line, curling in and out of each section. The design glistened in the light, giving the lines a rainbow effect of color.
“That’s a shield knot.”
“How do you know all this junk?”
“I read a lot.”
“So that’s what you do in your free time…”
He looked up and glared. “Yes that’s what I do in my free time,” he said. Laura glared playfully back before snickering. “Shield knots were used for protection or warding.”
“There’s something heavy inside.”
“What do you mean? The bag is empty.” He squeezed the bottom to demonstrate.
“Hold it and tell me it’s empty. The darn thing is heavy.”
James took the bag. Indeed it was heavy, the weight of a bowling ball. The sudden jerk of gravity surprised him. He looked the bag over, squeezed it again.
“Makes no sense.”
“I suppose it doesn’t.” Laura crossed her arms. “Maybe there’s some sort of metal. Something really dense.”
He pondered that for a moment, but with all the time spent reading he couldn’t recall anything that would make a small satin bag the weight of a bowling ball while being too small to notice.
Laura snatched the bag from him and began to untie the drawstring. She fiddled for a long moment before biting at the knot. Finally after a short spurt of grumbles she managed to get it untied. James looked on excitedly as she loosened the drawstring and pried the bag open. The look on Laura’s face was that of disappointment, which dispelled all the excitement from him. He had hoped there would be something truly special inside, but there was no mistake in Laura’s sunken face.
“It’s empty,” she said. “Look.” She leaned the bag in his direction.
He leaned over and peered closely into the bag. The inside was abnormally dark. None of the light from the room or outside seemed to penetrate inside. Nothing but black.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes. Just when he was about to turn away something caught his attention. He jerked back to the bag and lurched back. There in the darkness was an eye, peering up at him, wide and bloodshot. The iris gleamed icy blue and little streaks of crimson pigment covered the outside edges, separate from the bloody marks. Instead of a round pupil, there was a slit, snakelike and abnormal. The eye blinked at him. He stumbled backwards and screamed.
“There’s an eye!” he said, yelling as loud as he could.
Laura whirled around.
“Inside the bag, look. An eye!”
“What are you babbling about?”
“Just look.” James curled away and shivered, the eye vivid in his memory.
Laura turned the bag and peered. At first she curled away in disgust, but then her face went blank. James heard something soft, unintelligible, like whispers. He tried to focus but couldn’t make out what was being said. Laura’s lips remained still.
“Laura?” he said.
No answer. She remained blank.
“Laura, answer me!”
Still no answer. His heart raced. He took a few steps toward her. The whispers continued. He listened harder. The words weren’t English, nor any language he had ever heard before. They were guttural and thick with syllables. Something seemed sinister about them, and that strange feeling returned to his senses sending every hair on his neck to attention.
Then the whispers stopped. The satin bag shook, the entire thing rippling like the ocean. A faint light came from the opening. It grew brighter and brighter until there were no shadows left on Laura’s face. Abruptly the light intensified and an enormous fireball burst from the bag, engulfing Laura. The flames ripped through the rest of the room and then reached for James. He raised his arm, trying to protect himself, and caught through the corner of his eye the image of Laura slowly disappearing in the intensifying blaze. Then the force hit him full in the chest and sent him through the air. He landed hard, hit his head against the wall, and slowly lost consciousness. As his eyesight blurred he saw the flames recede into the bag and where Laura had been standing was a burnt circle.