Punching an old man in the stomach is, to say the least, a dishonorable thing to do. In fact, it could be described as downright evil. But when one has just smashed in your nose with the business end of a shovel, one tends to rethink one’s notions of honor and morality.
I actually felt the old man's stomach fold around my fist as I drove it into his belly button. I smelled his breath, quite unpleasant, blast against my face as the wind was driven out of him and heard him groan and smack into the ground. I describe these things because I couldn't see a damn thing due to the massive amount of blood that had gotten sprayed into my eyes from my broken nose.
I could also hear Darryl start to scream.
I wiped out my eyes as best I could, disliking the cold feel of the flesh-gloves I was wearing, and staggered towards the shack. I don't know if the old man was following me or not, but from the sounds of the pained gasps coming from the ground behind me I figured he wasn't going anywhere for a while. The night took on a red-rimmed haze as my eyes cleared and I thanked my lucky stars I was still drugged to the gills and couldn't feel the pain of my broken nose.
I busted through the flimsy door of the shack and blinked to focus my eyes. Darryl had his back to the wall and was staring around the room like a panicked deer. I took me a moment to notice that his skin had started turning blue and that his mouth was opening and closing, his screams cut off to a wheezing choke.
He was also about two feet off the ground.
I rolled up my sleeves and checked my gloves. I guess it was because my eyesight was still impaired, or maybe it was the mushrooms messing with my awareness, but I noticed that, above the howl of the wind and the ruckus Darryl was kicking up being chocked to death, I could hear a little tinkling sound. Like music.
The revenant, all red rage and fangs, was blinking in and out of my perception. It seemed pretty intent on killing Darryl and ignored me. I knew I should grab it and give it a good choke in return with my dead priest covered hands, but something about that music kept distracting me. I began looking around shack.
There wasn't much to it, really. An old table, now busted. Old horse-blood-stained floorboards. A broken saw hanging from one of the rafters. A sputtering kerosene lantern. Red sawdust in the corners. And something that glinted of silver up in the corner, squirreled away in the shadows near the ceiling.
I jumped up to grab it and bumped into Darryl, who gave me a bleary eyed look like he didn't recognize me. I knew he didn't have too long and that I should be prying the ghost off him, but that sound was too distracting and something about it nagged at me.
I managed to grab it on my second jump. It was a music box, gently playing a tune I didn't recognize. The moment I held it cradled in my hands Darryl fell to the ground and began to gasp and vomit. Every noise, the wind, the sound of Darryl puking, even the sound of my rising blood pressure pounding in my skull, went silent. I could feel the ghost, with its endless reserve of hate and anger, turn its attention to me.
It really didn't like that I was holding this music box.
The plan was formed as I carried it out. As I felt the air in the cabin shift and saw the ghost flicker into existence in front of me I threw the music box against the far wall. I slapped out with my left hand and felt it connect with the spirit and tear away a chunk of it. Black ectoplasm splattered against the floor, filling the cabin with a swampy, wet smell. The spectre passed through me, not a good feeling, and refocused on Darryl.
I grabbed the sputtering lantern from the window sill and hurled it across the room, it smashed above the music box and burst into flame. The sawdust, dry from not being doused in sick horse blood for a few weeks, caught quickly and the wall of the shack was soon a bathed in fire. The whole shack would be an inferno within seconds.
I could feel more than hear the ghost howl.
I grabbed Darryl, who seemed befouled by more than just vomit, and wrestled him toward the front door. Kicking it open, which actually just made it break awkwardly off the hinges and get more in my way, a blast of cold air gusted into the room a fanned the flames into a roaring blaze. I threw Darryl as far as I could away from the heat and took a moment to turn back to the shack.
I could see her. It was definitely a woman. Now she looked more like those drawings of ghosts that I had seen in a few of Seamus's books. She stood in the middle of the fire, holding the burnt remains of her music box, and stared straight at me. Her expression was sorrowful and I felt my heart ache upon looking at her. I could just make out a blackish bruise around her thin neck.
The lid of the music box fell off and clattered to the floor, the silver melting and the lacquered wood burning blue. As the gears and springs of the mechanism began to fall out of the box and scatter across the burning floor, she looked up into the sky and howled one last time. This time it was a scream of sadness and lamentation. It was the most sorrowful thing I had ever heard.
“Is that her?” Darryl asked, his voice rasping.
We both watched in silence as the fire consumed the small shack and lit up the night. I kept looking around for the old man, but he seemed to have run off. The shack was gone by the time dawn started brightening the horizon, the burnt timbers looking like a blackened rib cage. Darryl stood over by the smoking ruin and poked at the embers with a stick.
“So is that it?” he called over to me. I walked up and saw that he had uncovered a bit of the music box. “Is it over?”
“I think so,” I answered, not entirely certain. “If I were to guess I would say that that poor woman's soul had attached itself to that music box. Whereever it went, she went. Does it look familiar to you?”
“Oh, yeah,” Darryl answered, his voice distant and dreamy. “She used to play it in her parlor. All the time, ting ting ting. Used to drive me nuts. It was playing when I finally got sick of her and choked her to death. I made sure it was the last thing she heard.”
“What?” I blame the drugs for making me sluggish. I should have seen this coming.
“Oh did I say that out loud?” he said, smacking his forehead and giving me an exaggerated look of exasperation. “I meant to say...”
The gun was in his hand faster than I could register. A single, loud crack and I could feel the bullet enter my stomach. The grass felt oddly warm as I collapsed. I knew I should run, go get Harker and the others, get some help, but my body wouldn't cooperate.
I knew there was a reason I didn't trust the squirrely little bastard.