It was a quiet life, my dad and I in the cold desolation of the empty house. Dad was out most of the day, and I stayed in, glaring out of Vere's window and painting what I saw in the colours of blue and green and white, misery and anger and death and hatred and nothingness.
I lost track of time as I sat and painted in Vere's room, though I know that at some point the late summer rain disintegrated and the sun shone weakly, with a false gleam accepted by the fearful naivity of the people of Douitchurch. They were kidding themselves that as the sun was shining, the world was okay. But it wasn't okay. The world was everything but okay. And pretending that un-okay-ness isn't there is not going to get rid of it.
September came around again, but I didn't go to school. And school didn't ring up to ask why. They didn't care if it was illegal. They weren't mixing with my family. They didn't want to know anything. They were terrified of us and our abnormalities.
I remember at one point taking a walk on the hills, just on some spontaneous impulse. Why should I take a walk? Well, why should I not?
The hills were, by this time, wet and dreary once again, but I don't remember the damp bothering me, apart from freezing the end of my nose off, not that that is of any significance. I'm a masochist, right?
I strayed from the path at some point, and I must've been walking for a few hours, for I found myself at one time on the ridge of a tall rocky hill looking up to a dark wooden cross. The cross on the green hill. It was a surreal sight in the rain, as it had been in the darkness, and even stranger from such an angle. I could see that the cross stood as erect as a pencil, dignified and softened in the drizzle; but as my eyes travelled down its skinny frame, I saw that it stood on the very tip of a precipice, where the earth had crumbled away and the turf flopped over the edge. I looked down, and winced. Someone had come to a nasty end.
"Admiring my cross?" I heard a voice behind me.
I pivoted quickly, and frowned. Where had the voice come from?
"What do you mean? Who are you?" I said guardedly, clenching and unclenching my slippery fists.
A form rose from behind a tall bush, and I nearly shrieked. Perhaps my terror ungulfed my screams. I only know that I was petrified.
"It doesn't matter who I am," said the form. "Well, how do you like my cross?"
Not taking my eyes from the figure before me, I gritted my teeth to steady my voice and got out, "Very nice."
The figure nodded and peered behind me, up at the cross. I couldn't help myself. I turned for another look.
No; nothing happened. I turned back, much as I had turned a moment before.
"What d'ya mean, 'your cross'?" I said on impulse.
"My cross. They erected that for me," said the man. "That was where I died."
A convulsive shiver seized hold of my spine, and I felt my world turn faint. I grasped at the consciousness, and won.
"How's that?" I said, and my voice was still hard-sounding, to my surprise.
The figure sighed sadly, and felt a short spasm of sympathy. I caught myself just in time, and tensed my eye muscles.
"A dear friend of mine took me hiking," he said. "It was an accident."
The way he said those words, it was blatantly obvious that it had not been an accident. His dear friend had murdered him. Murdered him. So the man who I was now speaking to was dead. I shivered, and remembered the fleet-footed girl in the nightdress, Aileen Macpherson, Deanna's sister. Aileen had been dead too. And Aileen had died in a similar accident. The same accident? The same place. This man and the small girl shared the cross on the hilltop.
And Vere...Vere was dead. But I hadn't spoken to Vere since she died. No; she didn't die. She was murdered. They are very different things.
"Revenge," hissed a serpent from the folds of the form's cloak. I recoiled, even as the man's lips parted once more, oblivious to the obscene creature his cloak hid.
"I was okay to die, though. I'm an escaped convinct, and they were right on my track. I'd have been a loss in any case."
"Escaping over the hills?" I was interested despite myself.
"This was centuries ago," the man dismissed my query with a wave of his hand. "Douitchurch was a tiny village of no account. Not that it's any more significant now. But, yeah, escaping over the hills. I'd have been hanged if caught. I just wish I'd been given a chance to repent."
Repent. I recognised the word. Repent and you will gain forgiveness.
"For what?" I said.
"Everything. My mother died when I was seven, and everything went downhill after that. My sister lost her job as a maid in a rich house, my dad got a cough - he worked in the mines. Then there was me, and I just was."
The man did not explain what he had been, and I did not ask. I understood. 'Then there was me, and I just was.' The words spoke my deepest convictions as to myself and my importance in the family.
"Repent while you can," said the figure as he turned away from me.
I glanced back at the cross, which was glowing a warm brown on the dull grass. Then back at the man, for the last time. The dull grey convict dress of history was gloomy through the rain, as it moved away down the hill through the mist.
And on the bleak ground, where the ghost had been standing, lay a writhing serpent cradled in the felt folds of a blue cloak.