First … And Last

Nate climbed the rusted gate, dropping to the weed-strewn path. He glanced round, but this late in the evening there were no witnesses. And he’d told nobody of his plans either. He’d tell them in the morning, when he climbed back over the gate, the first person to spend a full night in the old Falkirk house.

The cracked drive passed under arching trees that cut out the moon’s dim glow, and Nate shivered as the crumbling brickwork ahead slowly revealed itself. The windows were boarded up, and dark plants clung to the walls, right up to the overhanging roof. Four stout wooden beams sealed the front door.

There was a path to the side of the house, and Nate followed this, pushing through the tall grass to reach the side door, the one with the cracked pane of grimy glass. The one the others had used.

He wasn’t the first to enter the abandoned building, of course. Dares, shows of bravado, even a team of paranormal investigators all the way from America. But none had managed to stay the night. They talked of voices urging them to leave, of invisible hands pushing them from certain rooms. They talked of how their feet led them out, no longer under their own control. Even the investigators had only lasted a couple of hours.

Everyone knew the history of the Falkirk’s family home, over three centuries old, site of the usual scandals‌—‌illegitimate children, financial impropriety, affairs and other disputes. But it was in 1954 when Ignatius Falkirk slaughtered his wife, their four children and three live-in servants, before taking his own life with an old army revolver. He left a note, insane ramblings about the family not being his, how he was not Ignatius Falkirk, why there was no other way for him to escape.

Insanity, the court ruled. And nobody had lived in the house since then.

Nate grabbed the handle and turned it. There was a soft click, and the door opened. He crossed himself, taking one last look at the trees that creaked and groaned and seemed to lean toward the building, as if they wanted to reach out for him. Then he stepped inside.

The room was some kind of utility space, and Nate’s torch picked out an off-white Belfast sink, empty shelves thick with dusk, and chipped tiles with faded patterns on the floor. The reek of damp turned his stomach, and he pulled his scarf over his mouth.

A door led through to the kitchen. It was larger than he expected, with an imposing black metal stove and a solid wooden table. Again, empty shelves lined the walls, and the air was heavy with dust and damp and mildew.

Nate continued into the dining room, where the Falkirks had entertained their rich friends, and where high-backed chairs now stood guard around the long table. Nate ran a hand across the smooth wood, leaving a trail through the dust, as he walked to the double doors and through into one of the four reception rooms.

The furniture was sparse, the walls bare‌—‌there were darker rectangles where pictures had once hung‌—‌and the drapes across the windows heavy. But there was nothing frightening, no sense that he was intruding. He passed through all the downstairs rooms, then climbed the wide staircase.

The rooms upstairs were as empty and cold as those below‌—‌old beds with threadbare covers, some showing signs of being chewed by rodents, antique bathtubs and basins, and large toilets that stunk of neglect. There were heavy boxes that might have once contained children’s toys, and solid-looking wardrobes that now hung empty.

But no voices. No hands pushing him away. Nothing but silence and the remnants of life from another time. It was almost peaceful, although the dust made Nate’s nose itch.

He returned downstairs, to the smallest reception room. He checked the windows‌—‌sealed tight‌—‌then crawled into his sleeping bag and turned off his torch.

The darkness wrapped around him, and he drifted off into sleep.

* * *

When Nate woke, it surprised him how little the drapes darkened the room. Accompanying the sunlight was a floral scent, with a hint of food, maybe bacon.

His stomach grumbled, and he rolled over. The pillow was starchy, as were the sheet he pulled around his shoulders.

And Nate sat up, his heart pounding. He forced himself to breathe.

The room slowly stopped spinning. To one side of the bed was an ornate wardrobe, the doors closed, next to a dresser, fresh flowers in a vase. A glass of water sat on a bedside table. The walls were covered in heavily-patterned paper.

Nate threw back the covers and stepped onto the rug, the pattern a match for the drapes. His nightshirt reached almost to the ground, and although the room wasn’t cold, he still shivered.

“Iggy?” The voice came from the door. It opened, and a face appeared‌—‌female, blond hair framing small features. Red lips parted in a smile. “Good. You’re up.” She spoke with a soft Scottish burr. “Sally’s keeping breakfast warm, but she’s in one of her moods again.” Her face grew serious. “Dinnae antagonise her like last time. It’s so hard to get decent help nowadays. Anyway, I’ll be back with the weans for lunch.”

And then she was gone. Nate listened to her footsteps on the stairs, then turned to the mirror that hung on one wall. As he did, he rubbed a hand over his stubbly chin, the hair thicker on his top lip.

In his reflection, Nate saw a bushy moustache under a wide nose. There were bags under his bloodshot eyes, and curly brown hair above a high forehead. An older face, one Nate knew from his research, one he’d only ever seen in old monochrome photos.

He opened his mouth in shock, and Ignatius Falkirk screamed back from the mirror.


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