Belle Braes House, Fife, Scotland
30th of November, 1908
As she walked slowly down the stone
path, her long gray skirts brushing over the fallen leaves and twigs
from the great trees above, the house loomed before Cathy like a dark
shell of its former self. Once it had been beautiful full of life,
love and laughter. It had been her home, and her mother and fathers
home, a place where she believed the greatest happiness on Earth resided.
Now it was empty, lonely and tragic. Where once the windows glowed with light there was now only darkness; the paint on the shutters had been weathered away to nothing, and where some were nailed shut, others had broken free and hung limply on rusty hinges that squeaked as the wind blew them open and closed. The thick green ivy that grew up on the gray stone walls was lifeless, as were the once beautiful gardens that were off on either side of the house.
Cathy felt her heart give a painful twinge as she continued up the path to the door, and her eyes filled with tears to see what had become of her home. It felt wrong to be there, like walking into a tomb that should have been sealed up for all the rest of time. But she needed to be here, and though her feet longed to obey the impulse she had to turn and run as far away as quickly as she possibly could, she forced them to continue forward.
The door was locked, and the knocker was tarnished nearly black, a far cry from its former silver shine. Reaching into her coat pocket she withdrew a key and wiggled it into the lock. A few attempts and a bit of force on her part, and the key turned with a raspy click. A blast of cold air came up from behind her and blew the door open. Hinges creaked painfully, and then came the loud crash as the door slammed against the inside wall.
Cathy stood frozen there a long moment as she peered into the house, her heart pounding in her ears. She didn't know why, but she almost felt that someone from the distant past, perhaps the old help Mrs. Ross, was going to step out of the darkness within and demand to know why she made such a racket in entering. But no one came, and gradually she gathered her courage and pressed on.
The cold light of the cloudy day didn't provide much for her to see by as she stepped over the threshold, but in a very short time her eyes adjusted to the dim light and she was able to discern the shapes of objects that sat quietly in the small hall. A table under each of the windows on either side of the door, a rack for umbrellas beside the railing of the staircase, and another table set on the wall beside the door leading from the hall to the kitchen. All was exactly where it was before, but this time they were enshrouded by dust covers that had once been white.
The air was musty and damp, and the breeze blew dust and debris across the floor and set the cobwebs in the corners aflutter. Cathy covered her nose and mouth with a scented handkerchief. Slowly she took a few tentative steps more into the hall, her heeled boots made a dull thudding against the creaking floorboards that she was certain was loud enough to wake the dead.
Somewhere from the darkness above, right where the stairs went up onto the second floor landing, something stirred and skittered. She froze instantly in terror and nearly dropped the little traveling case she carried in her left hand.
“Hello?” she called out nervously as she searched for any signs of movement. The seconds trickled by into a minute as she held her breath, waiting for someone or something to answer her. But all was silent, and as she concluded that it must have been a mouse or something of that sort she relaxed slightly.
As she quietly set her case down and removed her hat, coat and leather gloves and set them on the door side table, she wondered if her coming here was a mistake, just as her Aunt Maggie had said it was.
“Your parents would want you to move on with your life now, Catherine.” Aunt Maggie had said a few days before. “Staying in the past, wondering all the time about things that you can't answer, it is no way to live. And going back there won't help anything.”
“But the past won't let me go.” she had returned rather more sharply than she had intended. Aunt Maggie was a good and kind lady who had only her best interests at heart, but she didn't understand how Cathy was haunted by what had happened to her family, how the past remained alive with the ghosts of that night. “I relive it every night in my dreams. There is a scream that wakes me, and then as I go downstairs there is father lying in a pool of his own blood in the parlor-”
“Catherine, please don't say any more!” Aunt Maggie had begged, her old eyes filling with pain that she was normally able to put aside. That was the kind of woman she was; she wanted answers to the murder of her brother Ian McLean and his wife Janette, but knew the chances of finding out anything were very small, and so put things aside so that she could continue on with life as peacefully as possible. It wasn't just for her sake that she was like this, but also for the sake of Cathy, who she took in and raised as her own after that horrible night.
But Cathy had been there. She had heard the screams of her mother, she had found their bodies lying on the floor, it was all as vivid in her memory as though it had been yesterday and not almost seven years earlier.
And somewhere inside she knew there was more, something she had repressed. It was always there in the back of her mind, a voice she should know saying something she could just barely hear, driving her nearly insane as she tried desperately to push through the thick curtain that blocked her off from remembering.
As she grew up she had convinced herself that going back to the house might help. Perhaps being there again would force her to remember, and perhaps remembering would free her of the constant nightmares that always ended in darkness and unanswered questions. She had determined to go as soon as she turned twenty-one, for that was when she would inherit her fathers house and lands, and when the key to the house was given to her she told Aunt Maggie of her plans.
Though Aunt Maggie didn't think it would do any good for Cathy to return, she didn't try to stop her strong willed niece. All she asked was that Cathy wait just a day or two before departing so that a few arrangements could be made, such as a supply of wood and some food delivered to Belle Braes so that Cathy could remain a day or two if she so desired.
She had agreed to her aunts wish. Word was sent to Mr. and Mrs. Ross in St. Andrews, the couple who had helped her parents run Belle Braes and tend the land, and they soon replied that all had been taken care of, though they hadn't touched anything else in the house beyond making a room ready for Cathy as there wasn't time.
At first full of hope, she had set out to try to remember more about that night. But now Cathy wondered if she should have returned at all. She had thought that the instant the door was open there would be a great rush of repressed or forgotten memories, that all would become clear in an instant, but it was not so. The weight in her heart grew greater as she gazed at the quiet place, at the dust covers that rested on the furniture like dirty shrouds, and her doubts of whether or not she would ever remember grew larger.
Trying to hold onto what little hope she had left, she debated whether or not she should stay the night. Going to the open door she looked out at the dreary path she had just come down and then at the angry, cloud covered sky. It was getting late, and the nearest village was too far away to make it on foot before darkness fell.
“No harm in waiting a little, I suppose.” she muttered to herself in a melancholy tone, and then shut the front door tight against the approaching storm.