Isabelle- An Occult Thriller- Ch5
An Occult Thriller by Tony DeLorger © 2011
Adam gently lifted Isabelle and hurriedly took her outside to get some fresh air. He sat down on the front step next to her limp body, holding her up with one arm while waving his other hand over her face to try to cool her down and bring her back to consciousness. Ted and Jenny hovered nervously behind them, worriedly considering what poor Isabelle had just revealed. Adam himself was trying to grasp this new snippet of information, trying to piece yet another anomaly into this inexplicable puzzle.
Softly stroking Isabelle’s brow, Adam wondered what more they would now find out.
Eventually Isabelle began to stir and as her eyes fluttered open and as the memory of what had just happened returned to her consciousness, she hysterically burst into tears, her arms flailing uncontrollably.
‘It can’t be!’ she screamed. ‘My God, what’s happening to me?’
Adam held her arms and gently pulled her toward him, rocking back and forth in an attempt to subdue her outburst, to console her in some way. She stopped struggling almost immediately and fell helplessly into Adam’s chest sobbing soulfully, beaten by her emotions.
‘Everything’ll be all right,’ whispered Adam warmly. ‘I’ll keep you safe, I promise.’
Ted held Jenny close to him, witnessing Isabelle’s pain and anguish. Both suddenly felt inadequate, thinking about their own insignificant problems and although not knowing the truth of all this yet, knowing that whatever was happening was more devastating than anything that they could imagine.
Isabelle nestled into Adam like a child clinging to its mother in fear and for protection. Her tears were endless and her tormented outpouring continued unabated. Ted went back inside to collect the locket and the clippings. On his return he secured the front door and roughly nailed a few boards back across it, then helped Adam to take Isabelle to the car.
As they drove out of the drive and on to the dirt road to head back to town, a sole neighbour stood on his front verandah, having watched their intrusion from a distance. As the dust clouded behind the Chevy and as it disappeared over the rise, the man’s eyes hardened, his arms folded, his fists white knuckled. A cockroach haplessly scurried across the parched floorboards in front of him and his steel capped boot instinctively came down hard on it, without him even looking.
After arriving back at the motel, Adam sat next to Isabelle on the bed, comforting her, gently stroking her hand and wiping the fine blonde wisps of hair from her face. She had at last calmed down but her face was still flushed, her eyes puffy and glazed. She felt torn apart inside and confused, as if her entire life until now had been a lie. Quietly Isabelle reached over to her purse by the bed and after sifting through some papers inside, retrieved another photograph and handed it to Adam. It was a photograph of this same woman, Elizabeth Harding, Isabelle's mother.
Isabelle rolled from her side to flat onto her back and gazed up into nothing, her eyes once more beginning to well with tears. ‘Why would they tell me that?’ she asked.
‘Why tell me that my mother died at my birth, now years later I find out she was murdered. It doesn’t make sense. I just don’t understand,’ she whimpered, turning away from Adam and trying desperately to make sense of it all. Adam sat there with his hand resting consolingly on her side, pondering her confusion.
‘What was Blaskin’s connection with your mother, they must have known each other?’ asked Adam.
‘And me?’ added Isabelle. ‘If he knew my mother, then he had to know of me. And the adoption......why?’
Adam was just as perplexed as Isabelle, but knew one thing for certain. Blaskin was behind all of these murders and even though he was dead, Isabelle, the last of the chosen twelve, was in grave danger indeed. Finding themselves in this extraordinary situation, it appeared that anything was possible and that knowledge was more than frightening.
Adam rose to his feet. ‘Try to get some sleep, we’ll work all of this out, I’ll make sure of it.’ He leant over and kissed Isabelle gently on the forehead, then left her alone to rest and joined Ted and Jenny in the adjoining room.
‘How is she?’ enquired Jenny, with concern.
‘Resting, completely confused. I don’t blame her.’ Adam sighed then continued.
‘First she finds out that her mother had been alive most of her life and not dead as she’d been told. Then she finds out that her mum’s been murdered, and by none other than some lunatic that turns out to be the man she knew as her stepfather.’
Adam fell back limply across the bed he was sitting on. ‘This whole damned thing just seems to get worse and worse.’
As his mind wandered within this avalanche of confusing and seemingly unrelated information, Adam suddenly remembered something that was mentioned on the parchment.
He suddenly leapt to his feet and grabbed the clippings that Ted had placed on the table, sat down and began to read hurriedly.
‘What’s up?’ asked Ted, now focused on Adam’s earnest attention.
‘It’s what that contract said, about how they were to die. The daughters as I recollect, had to be sacrificed in the same basic manner and on the same date as their mothers.’
Ted and Jenny quickly joined Adam at the small round table by the window, and looked curiously down at the clippings.
‘Yeah, here it is, Elizabeth Harding. She died March 11th. Shit! That’s only three days away,’ he spat, looking worriedly up at Ted and Jenny.
‘But Blaskin’s dead!’ followed Ted, unable to face it himself.
Adam looked at him with a helpless expression. ‘What about the paintings, the destruction?’ he added. ‘Blaskin was dead then, too.’
Whatever was going to happen, it wasn’t going to be good, that they knew. Unanimously they decided to leave at first light. Whatever needed to be resolved would have to take place at the studio, or what was left of it. That was where everything began and whatever the connection, it seemed a fitting battleground on which to decide their fate and the outcome of this insane unnatural quest.
That evening they all retired early, resolved to get some sleep and to get away from this place as soon as possible in the morning. The night was clear and bright, a full yellow moon perched ominously above the town like a suspended disc, lighting up the shadows and somehow revealing what was normally cloaked in darkness. The air was crisp and a deathly silence pervaded the landscape.
About 11 o’clock Adam stirred. He drowsily half opened his eyes and noticed strange shadows dancing on the wall next to his bed. It was not simply moonlight through the trees as it was when he retired, so he inquisitively turned over toward the window. There was someone outside. He squinted and checked the time on his watch next to him on a side table, then stumbled out of bed careful not to wake Isabelle. He went to the window and parted the lace curtains. Briskly rubbing his sleepy eyes he peered out into the moonlit night.
Two dark figures, one holding a fire torch walked silently down the dirt road past the motel. Then behind them another approached, similarly holding a torch. Adam instinctively rolled back against the wall so not to be seen, then, carefully edging the curtain aside, he crouched down and peered down the road. In the distance he could see a trail of torchlights leading out of town.
‘What the hell’s going on?’ he muttered. For a single moment of madness Adam’s curiosity got the better of him and with not a thought for any possible danger, he quietly pulled on his jeans and dressed himself. Fully dressed he waited patiently until the last of the torch bearers had passed and then stealthily left the motel room and made his way along the dirt road behind this odd procession.
The moonlight filled the night like a silvery mist, softening the shadows and inadvertently lighting the way. He crept silently along the side of the road, hunched over like a stalking predator, making sure that he kept a reasonable distance between himself and the last of the torches. It was a chilly night, but the relentlessly pounding of his heart kept him more than warm. The journey took forever, the dim light hardly defining the landscape enough to know where he was or where he was headed.
After nearly three-quarters of an hour, a hundred-odd metres ahead, Adam saw the torchlights gathered amid a clump of huge trees. He quietly edged forward and sought cover behind some low shrubs that sat within sight of the gathering.
About twenty souls stood roughly in a circle, most carrying torches. The torchlight created ghastly shadows over the craggy branches of the surrounding trees, and each person was dressed in those same colourless, dark, hooded garments that remained so vivid in Adam’s memory. They were at that clearing about to do God only knows what. A rampant fear surged up Adam’s spine and almost made him gasp. He quickly stopped himself and lowered his head, forgetting how close he was to this menace.
A low humming chant suddenly broke through the silence and Adam clenched his eyes tightly shut trying to steady the endless pounding in his chest. As the chanting increased in fervour and the sound ripped through the surrounding claw-like branches, their frightening intent exploding into the darkness, Adam forced himself to look. Something was about to happen. His mouth was dry, beads of sweat began to form on his forehead and the panic within him was almost unbearable, when suddenly that unholy chanting stopped. A cold, silent anticipation prevailed.
Adam’s eyes began to water, from the cold and the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to even blink. The fear within him was intolerable. Then as he painfully watched, a strange light began to manifest in the centre of the circle. At first only a subtle haze, the light slowly built in intensity, swirling, forming, then swirling once more, and trying to find form. Adam was transfixed by this strange vision, glued to the spot and unable to move.
With a final burst of energy and with an electric-like crackle, the form completed and a figure appeared. It was luminous, hardly defined but evil nonetheless.
In a growling, guttural voice the image addressed the gathering. ‘The time is near!’ it snarled. ‘Only one remains and I shall be with you again. The world will then know of my power and nothing will stand in the way of the chosen.’
Adam shuddered and looked away for a moment in panic, then, as if compelled by some unknown force, turned back. He peered at this thing’s evil eyes and bitter expression and knew straight away that it was Blaskin. How could he ever forget that face?
With a flash of light, like flames igniting, the image welled up, steadied once again then continued to address the group.
‘Isabelle, you will be mine, the last and final soul, key to my ascendance. Isabelle!’ he shouted.
The gathering began to chant. ‘Isabelle, Isabelle, Isabelle...’
Over and over, the name echoed across the clearing, building and building in intensity to fever pitch. Adam, unable to take a second more of it, instinctively leapt to his feet in a panic and fled, running as fast as his legs could carry him. Through the grasses, the bushes and on to the dirt road beyond he sprinted, stumbling awkwardly and out of breath. He pushed himself to the limit, running through the crisp night air along the dusty road and back to the motel. Unsure if he had been seen or not, Adam didn’t look back, he couldn’t. All that he knew was that they had to get out of there, and now!
Adam leapt up the step and pounded on Ted’s motel door, then bent over with his hands on his sides, panting like a dog, trying to catch his breath. Ted, with one eye open turned the light on and opened the door a few inches, the security chain stretched to its full-length.
‘No time to explain,’ Adam panted. ‘Got to get out of here, now!’
Ted, realising immediately that this was no joke, unbolted the chain and went to wake Jenny, who, having heard it all was already packing her belongings. Adam then went to Isabelle who was on her way to the door, to find out what all the commotion was about.
‘What’s going on?’ she asked sleepily. Adam grabbed her roughly by the arm and pushed he back into the room.
‘Get dressed, we’re leaving!’ he shouted, beginning to gather his clothes.
‘Adam, you’re scaring me. What’s happened?’ she asked worriedly, his insistence more than alarming. Adam turned and looked her squarely in the eye.
‘You’re in danger. We’re leaving now!’
Isabelle threw on her clothes and stuffed the remainder quickly into her bag. Ted was already in the car, warming up the engine, a cloud of condensation streaming from the exhaust pipe in the night air.
With everyone in the car, Ted put his foot down and old Betty skidded sideways, throwing up dust and stones until the tyres finally gripped the red surface, propelling the car forward at great speed on toward the main street. As the tail of the car at last straightened up, Ted looked out the rear vision mirror and saw a group of people with torches running after the car.
‘Shit! What the hell’s going on?’ he spat, as they all turned to see that they were being chased. A contagious panic suddenly ripped through the car, their adrenaline pumping, holding onto one another for dear life. ‘At least we’ve got a head start,’ cried Adam, nervously scanning the darkness.
Ted put his foot down even harder on the accelerator and skidded around the clock tower, the rearguard scraping against the metal rail, sending sparks splattering out into the darkness with an almighty metallic tearing sound.
‘Jesus!’ bellowed Ted, unsure if his response was for poor Betty or his possible impending demise.
Betty straightened up again and Adam, finding some equilibrium, leaned forward holding the dash and peered into the shadows.
‘Shit! Up ahead!’ he shouted. At the other end of town another group of torches appeared and Ted, having already caught sight of them, unexpectedly detoured hard left. Betty swerved across the road in a cloud of dust and then with a rampant squeal of her back tyres, lurched forward down a side street. One of her back hub-caps dislodged and crashed with a clatter against the wall of one of the shops.
Behind the shops a maze of back streets invited their escape. Ted wove through the dusty tracks trying to get as far away from the main street as possible. Betty lurched and bounced like a rubber ball over the bumps and potholes, a cloud of dust almost obscuring the distant torch lights. Adam looked back towards town and saw them amassing at the northern end of the main street, while Jenny and Isabelle huddled together in the back seat, terrified.
The last rather non-existent track wound its way down toward the creek and they hoped there would be at least some form of camouflage or protection by its banks. When at last they could see the torches no more they pulled over to the waters edge, next to a clump of willows and thick reed-like grasses.
Ted turned off the ignition and groaned, his heart having almost launched itself out of his chest. Adam looked at him with a desperate expression then turned around. ‘You girls OK?’ he asked. Isabelle, almost in tears nodded bravely, Jenny still holding her tightly.
‘This should do it,’ said Adam, alighting from the car and looking around for some loose foliage.
The girls stood huddled under one of the willows while Ted and Adam collected fallen branches and anything that could cover old Betty. With the help of weeping willow branches and some loose greenery, Betty soon disappeared under the cloak of nature, giving them at least some time to plan an escape.
Adam, exhausted from the chase, leant back against one of the tree trunks and wiped his wet brow on his sleeve. ‘We need to find somewhere to hide, until first light,’ he said.
‘What about Miss Elba? I’m sure she’d help,’ suggested Jenny. Ted looked up expectantly toward Adam.
‘It’s worth a shot,’ he added, peering out into the moonlit night, trying to get some bearing on where they were. ‘If I remember correctly it’s up there somewhere,’ said Jenny, pointing into the darkness, not completely convinced.
Ted without question set off in that direction, grabbing Jenny by the hand, Adam and Isabelle close behind. They followed the creek for about two hundred metres or so. The earth was dry and only soft pliable grasses lay underfoot. The moonlight glistened on the water while the willows draped gracefully over its edge. Everything was alive with a frosted luminescence and the stillness was somehow comforting and calming.
Ted happily headed up the track, trudging through the grasses and occasionally holding back troublesome branches and bushes for the others to pass. Somehow he was beginning to find his own feet out here in this strange situation. He was by nature, hardly the outdoors type, but this madness seemed to be bringing the best out in him.
‘Up this way,’ he said confidently, pointing up and away from the water.
They left the creek and cut up through the fields just north of the township.
‘I’m sure it’s up here somewhere,’ added Ted.
The grasses suddenly became coarse and stiff, their dry stalks crunching noisily beneath them. They left a winding trail in the moonlight as they carved a route through the grass and headed to the roadway beyond. As they finally reached the top of the incline, they could see a house in the distance.
‘There,’ said Jenny. I’m sure that’s it.’
The moonlight bounced of the tin roof forming a halo and defining the outline of the little cottage. A warm glow emanated through a rear window from a night-light inside. As they drew closer this quaint, almost fairytale cottage revealed itself. It was a stone building with broad verandahs on two sides. Painted flower boxes hung below each of the French style windows, amassed with colourful summer blooms. The outside garden however had been let go- weeds and thistles now dotted the stone-edged beds. Elba at her age, was of course too old to tend her outside garden, but obviously took great pride in her window boxes.
They hated having to disturb the old dear, but at this point she was their only hope, so Adam gently opened the front screen door and it creaked painfully, breaking through the silence. He knocked softly on the door, trying not to startle the poor woman. They waited patiently. An internal light suddenly switched on and they heard footsteps across the old floorboards inside; it sounded like the creaking springs of a well-worn mattress. With a shuffling sound at the front door the porch light unexpectedly flooded the verandah, sending the four into sensory panic. The door handle rattled and then the door edged open, just a little.
‘We’re sorry to disturb you Miss Elba,’ said Ted in a congenial voice. ‘We’re in trouble, can you help us?’
She squinted, lost for a moment, then after suddenly recognising Ted and Jenny, she happily opened the door without a word and let them all enter. They quickly shuffled in, Adam instantly finding the porch light and stifling it, looking nervously over his shoulder.
‘We know it’s late, but we can’t trust anybody else,’ whispered Jenny, moving closer to Elba and placing her hand reassuringly on her shoulder.
After introducing Adam and Isabelle, the four of them tried to explain their story, as strange as it was. The old woman didn’t bat an eyelid and took all of it in her stride. She just sat there peacefully in her nightie with a colourful crocheted shawl around her shoulders, listening intently.
She was a small, frail woman, with long silver-grey hair, as fine as silk. Her skin was pale, like porcelain and her kind eyes a soft grey blue. Silver rimmed glasses sat delicately on the tip of her nose and although she appeared fragile physically, she exuded an inner strength and determination, and just being with her at that particular moment, was a comfort.
‘So we escaped and now we’re here,’ finished Adam, wandering nervously over to the window to check outside.
Elba removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes wearily. ‘It’s been so many years,’ she sighed. ‘A terrible secret has slowly dismantled what used to be such a blissful little town. I always knew there was something going on, but I’m an old woman...What could I do?’
She replaced her glasses, found her armchair and leant back in it. ‘I pretty much keep to myself these days. It’s always been easier not to get involved,’ she added with a tinge of regret in her rather gravelly voice.
Ted crouched down beside her. ‘Can we stay here tonight?’ he asked, ‘until first light?’
Elba broke into a warm smile. ‘Of course you can, you’re all welcome,’ she followed, repentant for her inaction in the past. ‘It’s the least I can do.’
Elbagroaned and stiffly rose to her feet, then disappeared down a hallway to bring back some spare linen. Adam scoured the night for any movement but all seemed quiet for the moment. Still not at ease he joined Isabelle on the lounge, she was still shaky and confused. As he sat she leant her head against his shoulder, nervously fidgeting with her fingers.
‘What happened Adam? Why am I in such danger?’ she asked, with some trepidation. Adam placed his arm around her and looked out the window into the darkness.
‘It appears you’re the key to Blaskin’s plans, the final stage in his deliverance.’
Isabelle clenched her eyes tightly together and breathed out.
‘I won’t let that happen,’ said Adam. ‘Not while there’s breath in this body.’ He turned and kissed her gently on the forehead. In response she opened her eyes and stared vacantly to the floor, pondering her fate.
Ted helped Elba bring out the blankets and pillows from the cupboard while Jenny filled the kettle to make some tea. For the moment, they all felt relatively safe and the mere organisation of their makeshift accommodation made them temporarily forget, what lay beyond these stone walls.
In the warm glow of a side lamp, the five sat quietly sipping tea, Elba recalling the town that she not only loved but also had lived in her entire life. Her memories were clear and detailed and the pleasures of country life in her day were heart-warming. She talked of friendly barter and acquaintances that had come and gone. The district fairs and dances that delivered her youth so painlessly into adulthood, and that had captivated her heart in a life blessed, flooded back.
As the time drifted carelessly by, and her words were slowly replaced with a struggle for lucidity, the call of slumber drew them all nearer. It was almost 1.30am and time to retire.
‘Time for bed, then?’ asked Elba, yawning and unable to continue for a moment longer.
The others, having not wanted to interrupt, were all exhausted too and more than welcomed the suggestion. But as they rose to organise themselves, a sound came from outside, ominously cutting through the night air. Adam and Ted rushed to the window and carefully parted the curtain. A hundred metres away, several torchlights bobbed up and down in the darkness.
‘They’re here!’ snapped Adam, with a panicked expression on his face.
Elba pointed to the floor. ‘Under the rug, quickly,’ she said. ‘The cellar.’
Adam and Ted hurriedly removed a wooden coffee-table and pealed back the rug underneath it to reveal a trapdoor.
‘Hurry!’ said Elba, beginning to panic herself.
Ted grabbed the metal handle and heaved and the trapdoor flung back against the lounge. Ted helped the girls down the steep stairs while Adam went to the window; someone was walking up the drive.
With a clunk, the trapdoor was secured and Elba rolled back the covering rug. The coffee-table was just too heavy, so in a panic she grabbed the blankets and a pillow and threw them onto the rug.
Suddenly a loud thud resounded throughout the cottage and Elba gasped at the sound of it. Light from flickering tourches danced outside in the blackness, somehow finding its way into the cottage through the drawn curtains. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself before walking slowly to the front door and opening it.
Frank Palmer and several other locals stood there in the torchlight. ‘You’re up kinda late, Miss Elba?’ enquired Frank, with a scrutinising glare.
Indignantly Elba scanned the group. ‘Could ask you the same question,’ she replied.
Frank didn’t like her reply one bit and stepped forward and around Elba to take a look into her sitting room. He immediately saw the blankets and pillow on the floor and he looked back at her, his mistrusting eyes hardening.
‘I’m an old woman, Frank. My bed’s not what it used to be. Sometimes the floorboards can help my old bones and get me some sleep. Problem?’ she asked gamely.
Frank tried to move forward but little Elba stood firm.
‘What do you want with an old woman?’ She was losing patience. ‘It’s 1.30 in the morning,’ she added, well on her way to cranky.
Frank edged back and stood tall, his legs parted in a dominant stance, his eyes fixed coldly on her. ‘Seen anyone tonight, Miss Elba?’
Elbamoved forward a little, showing no sign of being intimidated. ‘Don’t see much of anyone these days, Frank. ‘Cept you calling like this, in the middle of night. It’s late,’ she growled. ‘Let an old woman sleep!’
Elbaturned and stepped back inside and tried to close the door, but Frank put his steel-capped boot in the doorway and stopped her, leaning his elbow casually against the doorjamb. ‘You’d let us know if ya see any strangers, wouldn’t ya?’ he asked, his eyebrows raised expecting her reply. Instead Elba’s expression hardened and she carelessly kicked his boot away, then closed the door with a thud.
Elba exhaled nervously, her heart was pounding in her chest. After a few seconds, Frank and the others turned and left, continuing further down the road.
‘Good riddens,’ mumbled Elba, under her breath.
She waited almost ten minutes before she was sure it was safe then rolled the rug off the trapdoor and gently knocked. ‘It’s OK now,’ she whispered.
The door edged up and Ted appeared at the top of the stairs.
‘It’s best you stay down there tonight,’ she suggested. ‘Just incase they come back.’
Ted nodded in agreement and climbed out to collect the blankets and pillows. He quietly passed them down to Adam, and the girls having found the light switch, were busily setting up. The cellar wasn’t roomy or anything much, but it was dry and safe and they would need some rest to face what the following day had in store.
Ted poked his head up from the stairs down to the cellars and smiled warmly. ‘I don’t know how to thank you, Miss Elba.’
A mischievous grin crept across her face as she sat down on the arm of one of the lounge chairs. ‘Can’t remember when I’ve had so much excitement,’ she said, having rather enjoyed it.
Ted chuckled. ‘Night then,’ he said quietly and eased down the trapdoor.
Elba got up lethargically and rolled back the rug with her foot, then sat exhaustedly down on the lounge. This had all taken a toll on her, as much as she’d deny it.
Next to her on a small side table, an intricately sewn doily sat over the patterned wood-grain, tiny beads cleverly sewn into the radiating design. On that sat a sterling silver picture frame displaying a detailed vine leaf wreathe design in the shape of an oval. It suddenly caught Elba’s eye. She looked lovingly at the subject and turned gently in the lounge toward it, picking up the frame and holding it in her lap. Her expression subtly changed to a pensive, almost melancholy gaze.
‘Harry Parks. I don’t know how I’ve got along without you, all these years,’ she whispered, gently touching his face through the glass of the frame. She could almost feel the warmth of his flesh as tears began to well in her eyes.
Elba let the frame fall from her hands onto her lap. With her dry lips parted and her mouth slowly edging up at the corners into a knowing smile, she eased her head back onto the lounge, exhaled and closed her eyes.