Edith’s old pillow in her old bedroom, starched and stale from disuse, still cradled her head perfectly, just the way she remembered it. In times of great emotional need, familiarity felt a lot like hope.
Returning to her old home had been a sorrowful affair. It had failed to sell in her absence. As per his will, her father had deemed the home his daughter’s in the event of his death. Using this information, plus the help of her father’s generous lawyers, Edith managed to secure the deed back to the rightful family name following her dismal return from England.
She was wary to not over-exert herself so soon, her body was still in the throes of healing, expelling whatever toxic brew they had forced on her.
She found in the aftermath that she didn’t much like uttering their names aloud. The psychological attachment was too overwhelming to relive. Lucille, normally a fine name for a girl, now tasted bitter on her tongue. Edith made sure of herself not to speak it unless needed, such as when her father’s lawyers deemed it necessary for her to recount her dreadful experience during her residence at Allerdale Hall.
However, the name Thomas was not as unwelcome, though not as esteemed either—more bittersweet than anything, bearing with it a tinge of betrayal that made her heart heavy in her chest. Her regard towards the name did not change quite as harshly as Lucille. True Edith remained livid, saddened, emboldened, and mislead all at once following her experience, but it was difficult to dismiss the last words she ever heard him say.
Alan had revealed the exchange he’d had with Thomas, seconds before her fraudulent husband plunged the knife in. Thomas had murmured secretively, “But you’re the doctor. Show me where.” In an act of what could have been anything from mercy, to guilt, to a change of heart, or simply refusal to be ordered any longer, Alan swore to her that this was true: Thomas Sharpe had spared Alan’s life.
And what’s more, Thomas specifically sought for his deceived wife to be taken from the premises. Alive.
Edith had many hours in her English hospital bed to dwell endlessly over such a sudden heel turn. Alan could never be so dishonest as to invent those words. What he relayed had come through so sincere and so matched to the pattern in which the incident took place that Edith would be foolish to doubt him and stake their years of friendship on it.
However short her time was there, Allerdale Hall lent itself to her writer’s imagination. It’s unique structure was harshly difficult to banish, and the secrets it held onto even moreso. Dilapidated as it may have been, she recalled how willing she was to call it home.
First impressions would compare the clay’s watered down state to that of blood, but Edith saw its texture as something that immediately separated it from the resemblance. The consistency, not to mention the coloring, was more that of dense tomato soup. Edith never really viewed its presence in the house as ominous or an omen. At least not then. If nothing else, the crimson ooze was certainly not a checkmark towards cleanliness should she have ever hosted a dinner party with friends someday.
The one thing, however, that Edith was certain she could never forsake, no matter how aged or embittered she became, was the final time she witnessed Thomas. Those serene but haunted eyes, glowing in the white-out of morning mist. Once his wicked brute of a sister had been dealt with once and for all, Edith’s nerves remained implicitly taut, even after the immediate danger was over. Her lungs, shredded by the poison still lurking in her body, scratched her insides with every laboured breath as though a feral cat had taken to them. The sharply chilled, dry air only added to her discomfort.
Still, Thomas did not disappear, he only watched. Edith approached his image guardedly, and that was when a reluctant sadness overcame her. Her gaze fell upon the rising, burgundy vapor exiting from a wound beneath his rightside eye. Though Thomas’s ghostly imprint displayed more than one laceration, Edith knew for certain which one had been the end of him.
She was unable to unlock the hold his eyes had on her, still as bewitching and come hither as the day they met, even though she were less likely to fall for their charm and ghoulish color now. But did they signify remorse for her or of his own fate, she could not tell. His stare was alarmingly pitiable she found, despite her best efforts to stay indifferent. Edith raised her hand to his marred cheek, delicately brushing her fingertips across the open wound. Red smoke attached itself to her skin, billowing like fog on a cold day. Then, carried away with the wind, Thomas closed his eyes sorrowfully and fell away like dust, and was no more.
Only in hindsight could Edith really analyze in depth what had transpired on that cold, misty morning. There were signs. Signs that perhaps pointed to Thomas having been the lesser of two evils. The led pawn, moreover.
To what Edith gathered, for all of Thomas’s marriages, hers had been the sole one to which he’d chosen to consummate the union (she thought herself above using so crude a word as Lucille had chosen.) Occasionally her memories drifted back to that night, spent somewhere warm for once. It had done much for her mood that particular evening. She had loved him so, then. Now she wasn’t sure how to consider and file it; sometimes she felt filthy upon recollection after knowing his deception, others she reminded herself that it was a carefree lapse in time where she legitimately cared for him, and seemingly he for her, something her previous novel writings could have never captured until now.
After every detail that could have possibly been disclosed to her, Edith had no choice but to believe that Thomas made a concerted effort to right a wrong.
But in the end it just wasn’t good enough.
On her arrival back onto American soil, many days had gone before Edith could sleep in her old bed again in her family home. If she had any say in the matter, she would have rather been cared for by her housemaid and have a doctor visit routinely day by day. Alas, it was not recommended and Edith was required to swallow her pride and abide to a short hospital stay.
News of the ghastly incident had not yet caught up to her arrival in America. Rumors spread with discreet ferocity of Edith Cushing Sharpe, returning without her new husband nor his oddly cold but polite and genteel sister Lucille. Edith discovered this gossipy development by way of eavesdropping on a pair of chattering nurses who evidently thought their patient was fast asleep.
Despite the lashing it served to her reputation, it was a matter not yet ready to be made public. Not yet.
If anything good could be said of Thomas Sharpe, at the very least he had the decency to allow her a respectable berth in order to mourn, even if he was indirectly responsible for the reason why. Imagine. Even a madman displayed more finesse than American society.
Back in England, Edith and Alan’s rescue party did their best to rush the two back into town to the local clinic. Alan himself bore his own weight of physical healing, thus he and Edith were separated for a short time. Edith silently endured a spike of anxiety over the decision. She would have rather not left his side. Though she was somewhat strong enough to stand on her own despite wearing nothing in the cold but a filmy nightdress, Alan’s continued existence in her field of view was calming. Her post-traumatic condition convinced her that if he disappeared she’d be dragged back to that awful mansion. He was the only other survivor who knew, who understood.
Alan built himself up to be, for lack of better phrasing, a rather impatient patient. He was not too keen on the separation either, but in the end, the two of them followed orders. Wounds were dressed, rest was savoured, and safety was assured, but so they say, some things never heal.
When Alan himself was cleared for release, he was only too glad to takeover as Edith’s overseeing physician and escort her on the ship back to America.
“I promise you,” he told her, arm in arm as they disembarked, “so long as I breathe you will always have a place to stay.”
Warmth tickled Edith’s heart. The sensation was occasion for pause, she had not felt such a thing in a while. After the gruesome event at Allerdale Hall, she questioned whether it was possible for her insides to ever break free of their new, stony husks.
She was back home now. Back where she felt safe.
An echoed breath of her name, thin as though it’d been uttered through a tunnel. The speaker sounded distant, like Edith were on the opposite end and the walls carried the whisper to her.
She stirred in her sleep. Her brows furrowed restlessly as she nuzzled her pillow. An airy, cool draft was skimming her cheek, not disturbing her slumber but certainly rousing enough to distract her. She’d forgotten to shut the bedroom window in her haste to reacquaint herself with her familiar bed.
Creaking open her tired eyes, she blinked several times to banish the blur. The hour was very late, it seemed, the darkness was thick. Facing the window overlooking the quiet cobblestone residence, she stole a few extended seconds to gather the motivation necessary to roll out of her warm bed to close the window.
Just as she was ready to heave away the comforter, the more analytical part of her brain suddenly went on alert—her translucent curtains were hanging as still as though they were merely a photograph.
The window frame was sealed closed for the night.
Yet the breeze did not leave.
In just a flash of a second, Edith was wide awake, gripping her bedsheet.
Not tonight, Mother, she begged. Not tonight. The warnings were supposed to be over. What would have come to pass had already done so. She didn’t think she could bear the mystery of another cryptic warning, set for an unknown time into her future.
She sat up in bed. There was no mistaking the call of her name. It bore the same tone as the first time. A telltale drop in temperature told her all she needed to, as did the sudden density in the air. She knew what was coming.
And it did not feel like her mother.
“…Hello?” she whispered into the darkness.
Nothing came of a reply. The air stilled. The sharper she tried to listen, the louder her rumbling blood droned in her ears. This ghost was a new one, she was sure of it. Its pattern and energy output was one she’d never encountered before. For one, it was failing to show itself. They all did soon enough.
The silence was stiflingly disconcerting.
“If you are truly here…” Edith feebly raised her hand, offering it to the stillness. “…give me a signal.”
Edith continued to watch anticipatively, her sight anchoring on shadowy objects in her bedroom, though she’d be nonplussed to identify them. She didn’t truly see them and wasn’t concentrating on them at all. She was watching for anything between them and herself. She was watching for a change. Any change, whether visual or other.
Her fingers began to quake minimally from being suspended in the air for a long stay. Her arm was growing heavy.
Nobody, she was beginning to surmise in relief. She’d merely half-woken, the mutterings in her dreams seemingly bleeding into real life, a temporary cross between worlds.
As she was preoccupied mulling it over, she noticed the return of the cool draft. But its position had moved. Though the area it chose was small, she sensed enough that it was situated in a very particular place. It was caressing her finger.
The base of her scarred ring finger.
Edith wanted to recoil, to reel back into her headboard, but chose to stay her ground out of necessity.
The motions were too controlled, too humanly lawless to be a mere gentle draft. Wind as a collective was capable of changing direction, but it still yet traveled only one way in midst of gusts. No, this current was not of anything born to earthly nature and compromised architecture. While not every ghostly visit was a pleasant one, this was one Edith was not ready to confront.
Despite her reservations towards the spirit’s intentions, she noted how the touch was not at all hostile. The cool, airy strokes on her skin were centered toward where the opulent ruby gem once adorned. Her arm remained aloft. She watched the spot in fascination, aware of the sensation but for the first time unable to see its origin. Her discomfort ebbed. No harm would come to her, she knew for certain.
“You need not identify yourself,” she told the manifestation soothingly. “I know who you are.”
The spirit never anticipated for a reply, only her attention. Seemingly all he sought was to deliver a message, a request rather, that required no answer. Edith felt the presence lift soon after, taking its trail of remorse with it, and her room returned to normal again, peaceful. The heavy atmosphere cleared, and even the growing chill gradually let up.
Although any residual feelings of romantic love for Thomas Sharpe had long since soured and curdled—there was no going back after what had been done, whether or not he still lived—the visit endured as though it came with good tidings. As if she had gained a likeminded comrade by the end of it.
Ghosts were real, this much Edith knew.
Ghosts as well were not so vindictive, that much Edith learned.