“I’ve heard they found the body of a traveler in the woods not far from the path into town,” said their friend. “He must have gotten lost and met a terrible death.”
“As I’ve had said, it’s not the best time to be wanderin in those woods late at night,” said George.
“This happens every year. The light glows and outsiders get curious,” Thomas said. “They never come back.”
“He is one brave boy or a stupid one,” said the friend. “Hope he knows what he is doin, but desperate times call on desperate measures.”
“Wasn’t his father a merchant,” said Thomas.
“Aye, he worked for old man Travers. Died a few years ago by consumption,” said the friend. “He left the boy, his wife and two younger children. I believe the mother is deaf, makes soaps or somethin.”
“If they do get lost, no way in reaching them until summer when the snow and the rains have ended,” said George. “When will they ever learn that death is all they will find?”
Walter felt the boy look uneasy as he was aware that people were staring. The outsiders seemed to strut behind the boy, uncaring of the whisper they heard as they passed. Walter feared for the boy and the outsiders. He knew what was out there and wanted to stop them, but couldn’t. They wouldn’t believe him. Walter felt like a poltroon watching three innocent people go to their deaths. He felt his heart go heavy. What could he do? Nobody else was stopping them and they knew danger that laid ahead.
George was right, when will they ever learn that searching for the light nothing was gained. How many people have never returned? Why do outsiders believe they are different, that it won’t happen to them? It is ludicrous. Guns and arrows won’t stop the spooks, but it wasn’t the spooks Walter was worried about. It was the phantom. It was the true terror. Walter walked on by as the brothers watched the boy continue on.
For some reason, Walter took a turn to the right as if he was heading towards Alden’s home. He had become distracted by the scene that his body was on automatic. He didn’t realize where he was until he looked up and saw Alden’s home up ahead. He knew Alden was not home, but he had taken the route so many times it became involuntary. He was about to turn back when he saw the ghostly outline of the elder Mr. Clough standing a few feet outside the home. Where has he been all this time, thought Walter? He better let him know that Alden was looking for him. “Mr. Clough,” Walter said as he came nearer.
“Oh, hallo there, Walter,” Mr. Clough smiled nervously.
“Alden has been looking for you?” Walter said to him but Mr. Clough kept staring at the manor. “He is not home.”
“I know,” said Mr. Clough.
“Then why are you here?”
“I was just thinking,” Mr. Clough without clarifying what he was thinking about. Minutes passed before Walter had to ask him.
“How old this house looks,” said Mr. Clough. “I had the old one torn down and rebuilt this. It was a magnificent manor. This is not the one I recall. I kept passing by it, over and over searching for the manor. This couldn’t be it, but it was. She wasn’t always like that, you know.”
“Cordelia, my daughter. Alden’s mother. Through the years, my family has fallen apart. Relatives don’t visit anymore, Cordelia’s younger sister works for that wretched Mr. Berry and my grandson suffers the most. I always wondered what I did wrong. Maybe they relied on me too long that when I passed they couldn’t manage things… I guess I blame myself. When my son, Edward died. I was heartbroken and neglected the family. I let my daughter and husband take over the family business, but neither knew how to manage it. All my time I spent with my grandson, trying to atone my wrongs. I only made matters worse. Every time I try to mend the wrong I make it worse.”
Walter was quiet for a moment. He wondered if he should tell him how his son died. “My Uncle Obel would use to say that it gets worse before it gets better,” Walter said.