Forget and Forgive


Chapter 1: In The Belly Of The Beast

Sprawled on a cramped room’s cold floor, he struggles to stand, sluggishly stepping towards the window thick with grime. Pushing it open, sunlight streams into the room. He hisses at the sudden brightness, though if it wasn’t for the window, he would’ve thought it was still dusk.

He sticks his head out, scanning the grounds’ overgrown lawn and vines snaking up the house’s walls. A year ago, any imperfections in the estate’s appearance would’ve been fixed immediately. His mother was near-obsessed with its superficial state, and the house staff always worked themselves to the bone.

Still, they were rewarded greatly for their efforts, though no money would’ve matched their pride. The gardens flourished, and each night, everyone was treated to a meal prepared by gifted chefs. The grounds were well-kept, and the manager was excellent at ensuring everything was orderly.

The day they were driven out was the second-worst day of his life. The house was no longer the inviting place it was – the life and love it breathed sucked out of it.

Squinting at the road stretched between the house and the gothic gates, he sees a black automobile driving towards the exit. On either side of the road are dense gardens, where untamed weeds and bushes surround stone benches and statues.

Is he seeing things? The gates are always closed – nobody has been let onto the property since the house staff were sent away, and these measures to keep everyone who isn’t an Evans out have only tightened since.

Confused, he ducks back into the tower, darting down the spiral staircase. Each steel step groans beneath his weight, and he dashes past the walls lined with near-infinite columns of books and dodges leather sofas scattered around the parlour. Bursting through the wooden doors, his loafers pound against spruce floors. The eyes of dust-adorned portraits follow him as he rushes through the entrance hall, pushing through the oaken doors.

“Wait!” he croaks like he hasn’t used his voice in years. He tries sprinting faster, but the vehicle is out of sight when he reaches the gate. 

“No!” he gasps, falling to the cobblestone road. “Come back…”

He tries running past the gates, only to be pushed back by some invisible force. Yelping, he falls back to the ground, bewildered.

“What the –” he cusses, getting to his feet. He rushes forward, but he’s repelled harder than before. He stares blankly at the gate, puzzlement washing over him. He runs repeatedly, wishing loud enough for the village to hear, “Let me go!

Panicking, he darts to the house, screaming while stomping up the stairs, “Mother!” before finding himself in the master’s bedroom without his parents there.

But they’re not the only ones missing. The dresser, usually with framed photos lined atop it, is bare. So are the bookshelves, closet and cabinets. Clutching his chest, he staggers to the floor as the world sways around him.

“No, no, no,” he repeats, trembling. “They aren’t gone. They’ll come back. Tonight! Tomorrow! Soon! But they aren’t gone!”

He tries calming himself until his eyes land on the mirror reflecting everything – the hastily packed room, filthy furniture. Everything but himself.

Only Victorian wallpaper and dark floorboards are seen where he sits. It sends him further down an infinitely-tightening spiral, until he’s repeating “no” to himself too many times, wondering over and over, where are my parents and where am I, where are my parents and where am I, where are my parents and where am I–?

Over and over. Until it’s too much and he blacks out, awakening on the top floor of the tower again.

He stands and looks out the window, but there’s only wild grass and vines choking the walls caging him. He turns and descends the spiral staircase, remembering –

My family is gone. But I’ll be here when they come back.

It happens daily for the next century. He wakes up on the top floor of the tower. He remembers he’s waiting for his family and descends. He sees those who stumble upon the house, whether by chance or by choice; he witnesses teenagers leaving graffiti footsteps, thrill-seekers discovering the unknown, and locals hoping to uncover the truth about the place, for they only had rumours and gossip.

Their reactions to him never vary greatly. Some run, screaming prayers for their lives in the opposite direction. Others act like he doesn’t exist, oblivious to his presence. These encounters are always his first and last with each of them, and he’d eventually forget their faces afterwards.

With the plethora of people coming and going, he sees the house and himself surviving savage seasons and storms. Time eats at his face until his features fade, skin until it shrinks and sinks into his bones, and memories – until there’s nothing left of his identity.

All he has left is his will – to wait for his family, though he can’t even remember who they are – as he undergoes the worst kind of decomposition: the erasure of everything human about him.

 For the past… Well, forever, there have barely been any visitors or newcomers to Leadgreen. But today – a blue SUV drives along the main road, unfamiliar to the village’s residents.

In the SUV’s backseat, Jamie sits sourly, avoiding the villager’s prying eyes straining to see which outsider would possibly want to see the few things Leadgreen offers.

“Nobody thinks we should be here, Mom,” he mutters, eyes straying to the overstuffed duffel bag lining the car floor, “I’ve told you about the rumours too… There are so many posts about how it’s haunted! Can’t we go somewhere else? Anywhere but here?”

Audrey sighs. Jamie can feel her irritated eyes staring at him in the rear-view mirror as she snaps, “You shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet! You’re 15. Can’t you tell what’s real and what’s not?”

Jamie doesn’t respond. Instead, he sighs, turning to the view from his window. Cottages and terraced houses in grey and brown stand on either side of the wide road. There is little commercial property, save for several cafés, and grocery and convenience stores.

With a lowered voice, Charles, Jamie’s father, says to Audrey, “Don’t be so hard on him, dear.”

“But I –” Audrey begins before stopping herself. Sighing, she twists in her seat and with the most restraint she has, says to Jamie, “The. House. Isn’t. Haunted. Even if it was, some ghost isn’t going to stop me and your father from doing what we do – fixing houses, and earning a load of money for it. Once we do that with this one, we’ll have enough to settle down and build our dream home! You know how important that is to us, Jamie.”

His silence prompts Audrey to sigh again, while on the roadsides, the cottages transition into meadows, which transition into towering trees. They are enshrouded in darkness, a canopy of leaves hiding the sun. Only the car’s headlights illuminate the path, the track ahead barely visible.

The car stops as they approach a gate of corroded iron. On each side, a stone brick wall extends into the forest, caging a majestic manor.

“Jamie, can you open the gate for us?” Charles asks, tossing a set of copper keys to him.

“But it’s –” Jamie starts to retort, but sees Audrey’s stern expression from the corner of his eye. “Okay.”

Wearily, Jamie steps out of the car, leaves crunching beneath his worn-out shoes. He gazes at the house beyond the gate, and daunting eyes stare back, daring him to delve deeper. A mammoth mouth threatens to swallow him whole. Vines embrace its grey cheeks. Shreds of wood are scattered at its feet. Though the foundation it stands upon seems glued to the ground, it’s ready to devour all who make the wrong move.

Jamie shivers as he sees a plaque adorning the brick wall, reading ‘THE EVANS ESTATE’ in a once-golden and now grimy font. However, graffitied in blood-red, shines ‘EVIL.’

Walking up to the gate, Jamie inserts the key into the heavy padlock, unlatching it. As he pushes it open, the gate groans and his hands become stained copper from the rust. With a grimace, he jogs back to the car, and they welcome themselves into their new home.

Remnants of neglected gardens stand on both sides of the long road. Within them, wild weeds and bushes surround benches and statues of graceful figures and animals, made from crumbling concrete. Some are overturned, others cracked into pieces. 

A greenhouse is located on the left of the gardens, its glass panes thick with dirt. Deeper into the grounds, a yellowed fence encloses a large area of land upon which a shabby building of dark, cracked wood stands. All around, trees stand behind walls protecting the grounds. Despite these sights, Jamie is drawn only to the monstrous house in front of him.

The family piles out of the vehicle after it halts in front of the building. The house’s horrifying features are worse up-close, sickening Jamie.

Audrey leads the way up the porch, black flats clacking against the short flight of stairs. Charles gently places a hand on Jamie’s shoulder, guiding him as they follow. Jamie hands Audrey the keys, and she slides one of them into the huge pair of oaken double doors that stand in front of the family. The lock clicks – Charles and Audrey each grasp one of the door’s curved brass handles, and push it forward.

As the door creaks open, sunlight streams into a large, dark foyer. Audrey grabs Jamie’s arm, dragging him across the threshold. He yanks himself away but doesn’t retreat to the outside world, scanning his surroundings.

A knocked-over vase sits empty on a circular table in the centre of the room. On each side of the entrance is a ripped leather sofa in front of a floor-to-ceiling high window. Above, a chandelier glints softly, barely visible in the lack of sunlight. Two grand curved staircases stand on opposite ends of the hall, mirroring each other and leading to the second floor.

However, on the second floor behind the antique railings, stands a boy. A boy who isn’t even a boy.

Because boys have faces. This boy’s face, or lack thereof, has faded, his skin melted into his skull. His cheeks are hollow, and the two spaces where his eyes should’ve been are holes darker than obsidian, an abyssal vacuum sucking in all the life it sees. His lips are paper-thin and crackling, teeth black with mould. His body is frail, and the suit hanging over it is battered and ripped.

Jamie forgets how to breathe, think, make his limbs move and carry him to safety, far away from here – it doesn’t even have to be America, as long as it’s far. Instinctively, his hand reaches for his father’s, but he can’t even get his mouth to scream, “Help.”

The not-boy stands at the railings, debilitated bony hands gripping the wood. He leans forward with – eagerness? Longing? Jamie can’t put his finger on it. Yet, he can’t help but stare into the not-boy’s hungry chasm of a face.

His voice hoarse, the not-boy asks, “Brother?”

“Dad,” Jamie manages to croak, tugging desperately at Charles’ arm. “Dad, over there, who’s that?” He points up at the not-boy, hand trembling.

“Who’s who, Jamie?” Charles asks, peering up at the second floor. He squints, trying to see better in the dark. “I don’t see anyone.”

“The thing! The boy – the ghost!” Jamie says, exasperated. He raises his father’s arm, shaking it in the direction of the not-boy. “There!”

“Can you stop this?” Audrey scoffs, stepping in front of Jamie and blocking the ghost’s figure slowly descending the right staircase from view. “All your lies, these stories! It’s nothing but selfish, Jamie. You can tell us again and again how much you wanna go back to America, but one day you’ll realise maybe this new town will be good for you after all since you can’t get over the fact that it’ll benefit all of us…”

“What?” Jamie stares at her in utter disbelief. There are so many things wrong with what she just said, but he doesn’t know where to begin.

Since they’ve arrived, there has been nothing but signs and warnings threatening them of the house’s haunting – from the rumours to the graffiti, and the Estate’s state to the ghost he just saw. Anyone who’s seen a horror movie would know they need to get out as soon as possible.

And selfish? Who’s the one that was forced to leave behind all their friends? Abandon all he had because someone else decided to boost their career? Certainly not Jamie.

“Look,” Audrey says firmly, smiling down at him. It’s almost condescending, and it feels like Jamie is just a kid again. He’s been through this far too many times. Yet, even now, he doesn’t know what to do, how to deal with this and just what to say to prove himself to his parents. “It’s a new house. New country, new neighbourhood. I understand it’s a lot to handle! But you’re growing up, and part of that is being open to new experiences and knowing when to leave old ones behind.”

“But– Dad…” Jamie sputters, turning to his father helplessly. He opens his mouth, and Jamie’s eyes light up, filled with desperation and hope that perhaps this time, he’ll back him up. But he shuts it quickly and shrugs as if there’s nothing he can do. Jamie’s face falls, unsure of whether he ought to be disappointed when he knows deep down that he’s been expecting this all along.

His eyes dart back and forth between his parents. He’s feeling too many emotions all at once – a sickening lump is in his throat, heart sunk into the pits of his stomach, beating so loud he can feel it pounding and throbbing all around his head.

Disbelief. Disappointment. Disgust. His parents spin Jamie into a web of overwhelming confusion, sadness, anger and everything in between, so much that he doesn’t even notice the ghost slowly crossing the foyer and approaching his family. 

“Your father and I will go check on some things and start unpacking,” Audrey says. “You’re more than welcome to come and help if you’re ready, but you should reflect on how you’ve been acting lately.” Swiftly, she turns her back on them and disappears into the corridor behind the left staircase.

“There really isn’t anything to worry about,” Charles says warmly, patting Jamie on the back, “and if there is a ghost, which I highly doubt, we’ll be there to protect you! Even if it doesn’t always seem like it.” Taking a heavy flashlight out of his jacket’s inner pocket, Charles follows Audrey into the hallway. Jamie hears a door click shut, and he is left alone.

Alone with the ghost.

The ghost that’s now standing right next to him, his eye sockets overflowing with mortifying merriment.

“Dear brother!” the ghost gasps, arms wide open. “Welcome home.”

Alessandra Edic Dela Cruz (Class of 2025) is a poet, photographer and film-enjoyer. She likes to experiment with a plethora of mediums to tell a story. Alex loves exploring themes of loss and family and believe in using the power of sweets in overcoming deadlines.