The fog was rolling in like a throng of ghosts across the field. Its eerie fingers caressed the windows of the old house as the fog rose. In no time at all, it was as thick as the clichéd pea soup. Jessie Fontaine had to walk with her head down to make certain she didn’t trip in a hole. The old farm house was in the middle of a rutted hole-pocked yard in the middle of a barren field in the middle of nowhere. Well, not exactly nowhere; the house was five miles outside of the small town of Dullard, Oregon, on the way to the coast. A major highway ran only a mile to the east of the farm, yet far enough away to be in another world.
Another world, Jessie thought bitterly. She hadn’t returned to the farm in almost a decade. She ran when she was only 15 and now on the eve of her 24 th birthday she was back; but not because she wanted to be. The old man had finally died and it was now her burden to clean out his house. A year ago when the county sheriff called to tell her the news her first reaction was one of fear, followed quickly by intense relief. She remembered telling the shocked sheriff that she was glad to hear it. Of course, how could he know the truth about her Uncle James? That was yet another burden she alone had to bear. When the sheriff told her that she now owned the farm house, the land and everything in it, she told him to burn it, she didn’t want it.
Now she was here because someone wanted to buy the land and they wouldn’t take it as is; she had to clear it first and quickly. She had tried to hire professionals who came into estates and cleared everything out but no one was willing to come out that far as they were all based in Portland. However, she did eventually find a local couple who was willing to do the task. She even told them that they could keep whatever they wanted and haul the rest to the dump. That was last month. The couple arrived at the old farm shortly before seven a.m. and left at 7:05 a.m. They called Jessie and very rudely told her to find someone else to complete the job; they were never going back. Jessie didn’t have to ask why. She knew. It was the same reason she had left.
The old wooden steps sagged and groaned as Jessie climbed them. The steps and porch were original to the house, which made them over 100 years old. But Jessie wasn’t worried about them collapsing, though; she knew the house was safe, at least structurally.
Jessie stood in front of the door, its white paint peeling, the stained glass so dusty the colors were muted, the brass doorknob now tarnished. She didn’t bother to take out a key, nor did she reach to open the door. Instead she just stood there and waited. She didn’t have to wait long. Jessie willed her heart to remain calm and concentrated on taking deep even breaths as she watched the doorknob turn and the door slowly and silently swing open.
With a silent prayer, Jessie stepped over the threshold. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. As everything came into focus, she could see that nothing had changed since she left. Nothing, including the furnishings, had changed in almost 100 years. Even though the house had sat empty for a year, it was spotless. There was not a dust mite or cobweb to be found. There never had been.
Jessie had lived in that house since the age of four after her parents had disappeared while the family was visiting James Calhoun; her mother’s only living relative. She never knew what had happened to her parents; all she could remember was her mother kneeling down on the floor to kiss her cheek and telling her to be a good girl and stay put, that her and Daddy would be right back. Jessie remembered watching her parents follow Uncle James outside and heard them go down into the cellar. She had fallen asleep on the floor where her mother left her while she waited for them to come back inside. When she awoke, Uncle James was sitting in his chair watching her. She had only asked once where her mommy and daddy were. The look on James’ face scared her so that she never dared to ask again; his expression was not one of anger or sadness, it was simply grotesquely hungry and his only response to her question was that she was going to be living there from now on. Her parents and their fate were never discussed again.
By the time she was six, Jessie knew there was something terribly wrong with the house; and with her Uncle James. The house never got dirty and no one ever cleaned. Sometimes Jessie would run through the house with her shoes caked in mud only to turn and see no trace of her muddy tracks. Anytime she had spilled her glass, she only had to turn and reach for a cleaning rag and by the time she turned back, the spill was gone.
That wasn’t the only strange thing about that house. Neither Jessie nor her uncle cooked; for that matter, James never bought groceries. Yet every day at exactly seven a.m., noon, and six p.m. a meal would appear on the table. The meals were always meat heavy and light on vegetables and the meat was always rare, damn near raw. Jessie hadn’t touched meat since she left.
Jessie shook herself out of her trance and started to walk through the lower rooms. She hadn’t brought any boxes to pack anything. There wasn’t a damn thing she wanted to take from that house. She hadn’t bothered with a flashlight either. She wouldn’t need it.
Everyone room in the house was only furnished with the barest necessities and there were no modern conveniences. The first room was the parlor. It held only an old sofa and a single chair; next to the chair was a small table with an oil lamp. On the seat of the chair was a thick leather bound book. It was the only book in the house. Every night Uncle James would read from that book until he went to bed. If he finished it, he would go down to the cellar, sometimes for days at a time, and upon his return he would begin reading the book from the beginning. The walls were bare wood, devoid of any pictures, art, or even mirrors, on the windows hung thick plain heavy curtains.
The kitchen had only an old wood cooking stove, an iron sink with a hand pump, and old wooden table and two chairs. There were no cupboards or shelves, just bare walls. In the far corner of the room was an old iron claw foot bathtub. Every Sunday James would heat water for her bath and she would bathe while he sat at the table reading his book and although he always faced her, he never looked at her while she bathed.
Upstairs had two bedrooms as sparse as the rest of the house. Each room contained only a single iron bed with a lumpy mattress and a wooden dresser. The windows were covered with curtains made from old flour sacks. Under each bed was a chamber pot as the house didn’t have indoor plumbing; and each dresser had a pitcher and a basin for morning washings. There were no oil lamps in these rooms; Jessie often dressed and readied herself for school by the light of one candle. Her uncle had allowed her to go to school in Dullard. She would walk up to the main road and wait for the school bus. Since her uncle wouldn’t allow other books into the house she often had to leave her books hidden in a bush before walking home. She only had friends at school as no one was allowed to come to the house, nor was she allowed to visit other homes. This was her life until she was thirteen and started her period, and then her Uncle wouldn’t allow her to return to school. Nothing was ever said about it, nothing was explained to her. Every month when she got her period she would use old rags to catch her flow and then wash them out each night.
The house had been in her mother’s family since it was built in 1899. The first Calhoun family to live there were your average God-fearing settlers looking to farm the land and raise their children. Enus and Mary had two sons and one daughter. The eldest son, Matthew, worked the farm with his parents until he died. At the time of his death, the middle son, Isaac, was home on break from school. He had brought with him the book, which he read from sunrise to sunset. Matthew grew angry that his lazy brother wouldn’t help him and his father with the plowing. He threw the book to the ground and dragged his brother out the field. Mary and her daughter Elizabeth were in the back washing laundry they took in for extra money. They paused to watch has Matthew dragged an enraged Isaac behind him. Neither said a word but they did exchange a smile before continuing with their work.
That night Isaac, Enus, Mary, and Elizabeth sat down to dinner. Mary inquired about Matthew. Enus thought he had returned to the house before them. Isaac said he hadn’t seen him since he was drug out to the plow. It was the family consensus that Matthew would come soon as he finished up whatever it was that he was working on and that he had probably lost track of time. But Matthew still hadn’t made an appearance by the time the dinner dishes were washed and dried and the family was getting ready to retire for the evening. Mary and Elizabeth were beside themselves with worry. Enus lit a lantern and went to search for his eldest son. Isaac sat down with his book and began to read. But Enus would return alone that night. He and Mary sat up all night waiting for their son. When the first light broke, Enus went searching again. Eventually he gave up and went to town to recruit help from neighbors and the sheriff. All that day, every man in the area combed the fields for Matthew; every man except Isaac, who sat on the porch and read his book. Elizabeth and Mary sat with their bible and prayed.
Just before sunset the cry went out that he was found but the news was not good. Matthew was dead. His body looked as if it had been drained of all fluids; it was a gray shriveled mass of skin and bones. There were no wounds to explain either his death or the condition of his body. Men crossed themselves as they stared at the corpse; some wandered off to get sick. Enus dropped to his knees and cried like a baby. Mary and Elizabeth came running. Some of the men tried to keep them from seeing Matthew’s body but the women would not be stopped. Upon seeing her son, Mary screamed and fainted. Elizabeth stood in shock, crying and screaming until one man lifted her and another lifted her mother and carried them home where Isaac still sat reading his book.
Mary did not wake for days and she was never the same again. She would either lay in bed day in and day out or stand at her bedroom window as if waiting for her son to come home. Enus stopped working the fields; crops rotted and were never planted again. Every day he would walk to where Matthew’s body was found and he would stand there staring down until the sun would set. Elizabeth took on the roll of maid and nurse for her parents. She did all of the cooking and cleaning and still took in other people’s laundry for money. Isaac did not return to school. Elizabeth grew to accept her brother’s lack of assistance and eventually came to ignore his existence. Within the year, both Mary and Enus died. Elizabeth and Isaac lived in the house together, she continued to be a laundress and he continued to read. One day a neighbor was bringing her laundry when Isaac informed her that his sister would no longer be washing for others. The neighbor noticed that Isaac had started a fire in the field and around the fire were photos and books. Six months later Elizabeth gave birth to a son, within the year a daughter followed. That was the last that Elizabeth was seen. She was only eighteen.
For the next century, children were born, mother’s mysteriously died and no one left the farm. Until Grace, Jessie’s mother, who ran away from the farm at the age of 15, just as her daughter would later do. She met and married David Fontaine. They had a daughter and tried to live a normal life. However, her childhood continued to haunt Grace so she sought therapy. Her therapist was convinced that she needed closure and urged her to confront her Uncle James with the truth about their family and what it did to her. That is why they had come to visit when Jessie was four.
Jessie wasn’t sure how long she had stood there thinking about her family history but the smell of seared meat roused her from her daydreams. Jessie slowly walked down the stairs and headed for the kitchen. She knew what she was going to see even before she walked into the room. Sitting on the same plate that she had eaten off of for ten years was a thick steak; the bloody juices formed a pool around the barely cooked meat. Jessie felt the hot bile rise in her throat. All of her life, there were always two plates of food. The only time there was a single plate was when her uncle would disappear into the cellar for a day or two. Now with her uncle dead, the house had prepared only one plate of food. It always knew when she was alone. A cold chill ran down her spine.
As if she were powerless to stop herself, Jessie walked over to the table, pulled out her chair, and sat down. She watched dreamily as her hands picked up the knife and fork. She didn’t want to eat the steak; she loathed meat of any kind; and nearly raw meat made her gag. Yet she knew the house wanted her to eat the steak; it needed her to eat the steak. Jessie paused with her hands above the plate; she bowed her head for only a minute. When she looked up, her will was back. With a savage cry, she stabbed the steak with the knife and pushed the table away from her. Jessie immediately felt a shift in the house. The air in the kitchen grew cold. She could see her breath. Jessie looked over at the back door and saw the thick fog start to seep in through the cracks.
Fuck you, she thought and walked out of the kitchen. She had planned to keep walking until she was out of the door but something stopped her at the entryway to the parlor. She turned and noticed that the book now lay open on the chair. A piece of paper was fluttering as if a breeze had caught it. Both curious and angry, Jessie walked over to the book. She had never touched that book, had never wanted to touch it; but now she found herself bending over and picking it up. It took both hands to hold it because it was so heavy, so she couldn’t grab the paper and hold the book. She reluctantly sat in her uncle’s chair and laid the book across her lap.
The paper was the Calhoun family tree beginning with Enus and Mary and ending with James. From James’ name a branch was drawn to Jessie’s name. Below her name were two empty branches. Jessie felt her head spin. James hardly ever spoke to her expect to tell her about her family. She always knew her linage was different from other people but she had no idea how twisted it was. Until her father, David Fontaine, no Calhoun child had been born outside of the family. When a child was born, the mother would die. The patriarch would raise the child or at times the children if both a male and female child were born. When they were of age, the girl would bear the child of either the patriarch or her brother. Only three times in the last century was a woman outside of the family brought to the farm to bear a child and that was because only male children were born. If more than one male child was born, one would be killed; at no time since the time of Matthew and Isaac had there been more than one adult male in the house. When the male child grew into adulthood, the patriarch would die. Grace had left before James could force her to bear his child and when she returned, he killed her and David so that he could continue the family tradition with Jessie.
Jessie stood and dropped the book to the floor. The sordid family tree still clenched in her fist. Cold sweat ran down her back and hot bile rose in her throat. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stop it this time. Jessie ran out the door and leaned over the porch as she emptied her stomach until she was dry heaving. She leaned her cold wet forehead against the old wood railing. She had run away because James had started making her feel uncomfortable. He had started watching her bathe and often she would awaken in the night to find him standing in her room watching her. God, to think, if she hadn’t left when she did, she would have given James a child or two and then she too would have died.
So many questions ran through her mind as she watched the fog move across the land. Why had Isaac brought this to their family? What power did that book have over him and the other Calhoun men? Why did James always disappear into the cellar for days whenever he finished reading the book?
Jessie smoothed out the family tree, looking for answers. She knew it started with Isaac. She knew her family and the house had been normal until he brought that book home. Jessie’s breath caught. There was a pattern. Next to the name of every female was the age when she got her period, the age at which she bore a child, and the age she died. Not a single Calhoun woman beginning with Elizabeth had lived beyond her 25 th birthday and all had conceived a child on a birthday. Jessie was going to be twenty-four in only a few hours. A shudder ran through her.
Jessie returned to the parlor and retrieved the book. She sat down in the middle of the floor, unknowingly in the exact spot her mother had left all those years ago, and began to flip the pages, hoping to find some answers. The book was ancient, far older than the house by at least a couple of centuries. Jessie had no idea how Isaac had come to possess it. She ripped though the pages, gleaning bits and pieces until she had a pretty strong understanding.
The book promised the bearer a high ranking position in the afterlife if he would only live his life in an ungodly manner. He would willingly commit the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, and incest. He would also read the book everyday and only the book. He would also cut himself and his family off from humanity once puberty was reached so as not to risk a child being born outside the family. And in return, he and his family would be cared for in this life and in the after life, each male would get to sit at the feet of Satan for all eternity.
Dear God, Isaac had been a devil worshiper! He was responsible for the death of his brother, his parents, and his sister once she had bore him two children. He was a monster, as were all the other Calhoun men. Thank God her mother had been able to get away! Thank God I was able to get away, Jessie thought.
She still wasn’t clear on the why her uncle went to the cellar after completing the book. I took her awhile to find it but when she had, she wished she hadn’t. Upon every completion of the book a sacrifice had to be made at the alter. The alter? Jessie couldn’t remember ever seeing an alter and she had been in every part of this house. Then it hit her: every part except the cellar, she had never gone near the cellar.
Without thinking of what she was about to do, Jessie stood and ran from the house. She ran straight to the cellar doors at the back of the house; the sun had set and the moon was high; the thick fog seemed to cling to everything it surrounded. She threw off the latch and flung the doors open so hard that one cracked. Jessie didn’t have a flashlight and she hadn’t brought the oil lamp with her, but she had a feeling she wasn’t going to need it. She carefully descended the stairs into the dark damp earth. Cobwebs were abundant here. When she reached the bottom she stopped and waited just as she had at the front door. Slowly a flame began to flicker and grow in a lantern hanging from the wall. Jessie took the lantern and began to walk down a long dark tunnel. Finally she came to a heavy wooden door. She opened it and entered a large dark cavernous room.
All at once the room was aglow with the light of hundreds of candles. In the center of the room was a long table, covered in a crimson cloth. As she came closer, Jessie realized that the cloth hadn’t always been that color; it had been blood stained. The sacrifices, she thought. But what was sacrificed? Was it a goat? Perhaps a chicken? But she could not remember a time when any animals were on the farm.
Jessie began to explore the room. Along the walls were other tables covered in similar clothes. On top of each one were black candles, a sacrificial knife, and tall jars. Jessie nearly fainted when she realized what was inside each jar. Floating in some kind of liquid was a human head; more precisely, a female head. Jessie walked through the room forcing herself to look at each of the jars. The ages of the victims varied; some were small girls while others were grown women. But none looked like they could have been any older than she was.
Where had they all come from, she thought. But before she could give it further thought, she felt movement come from behind her. Suddenly, she understood.
“Hello, Uncle James,” she said calmly as she turned to face her elderly uncle.
“Ah, Jessie, you have returned to me at last. Now the prophesy can be fulfilled.” James’ voice was raspy and sent chills through her. He wore only a long dark robe made of a coarse cloth.
“I don’t get it, James, why the ruse of dying to lure me out here? Why didn’t you simply find a woman to bear your demon child, it had been done in the past,” her voice dripped with loathing. Jessie was walking around the room as she spoke, trying to keep distance between her and her uncle as she eased her way back to the door.
“Because your mother, the whore, broke the chain by bearing a child outside of the family. In order to preserve the prophecy, a child must be born of two Calhouns; you and me.”
“But I am not a Calhoun, I am Fontaine.”
“No!” screamed James in a voice that stopped Jessie in her tracks just as she had reached the door. The heavy door slammed shut before her and James walked over to the alter. “No, Jessica, you are a Calhoun. It is Isaac’s blood that runs through your veins and it is Isaac’s birthright you will bear.” As he spoke, James began to remove his robe until he stood before her naked and hard.
Jessie could feel the bile rising again. She was not going to allow this curse to continue. It would stop with her. Even if it meant her own death. But she needed time to get out of that room so she kept talking.
“What happens if one of us dies before a child is born?”
“Don’t be foolish. This house takes care of us. If you should try to harm yourself, it will keep you alive until the child is born and then it will allow the life to seep out of you. Just as it kept your mother alive long enough to bear me a son. Just as it kept the boy alive so that he would be able to carry our legacy with our child.” James licked his lips in anticipation. “Now, come here, Girl. You have made me wait too long for this day.”
“My mother was here, alive? I have a brother?” Jessie’s head swam with the possibilities. How could her mother have been in the house and she not know it? How could a boy have been living all these years in the cellar without her knowing it?
“Yes. You will recall the day your whore mother returned with you and that outsider she called a husband, the three of us went down here and yet I was the only one to return to you.”
“What did you do, you bastard?!”
“I did what was necessary. Your father was killed instantly; his skull is on the table behind you, the one with the large hole in it.” James’ dry laugh sent chills down Jessie’s body. The bile continued to claw its way up her throat. “You mother remained here for nearly two years, long enough to conceive my child, bear him, and care for him in his first year. Then it was her time to die.”
“Where is my brother?” Jessie demanded.
“Why, he is right here, my dear.” With a sweep of his arm, a small pale man-boy stepped out of the shadows. He was exceedingly pale, thin, and weakly. His eyes stared at Jessie dully and drool slipped down his chin. Jessie noticed that he wore the same type of robe that James had worn.
Bile burned in her throat as she watched him disrobe. Jessie turned and ran to a wall where she finally surrendered to the urge. Vomit spewed from her, her retching continued until all bile was expelled from her body. As she was being sick, she heard her uncle, “You will lie on this table and prepare to conceive the next Calhoun child, Girl! Both your brother and I will lay with you to be certain.” Jessie’s body was wracked with dry heaves.
“What happens if you die?” Jessie asked when the spasms subsided.
James laughed harshly, “The house would not allow us to die.”
James approached Jessie who still stood close to the door. She could smell his lecherous desire oozing from his pores. As he reached out to touch her face, Jessie jerked away from him. Angry, James grabbed her hair and pulled her to him. “You will conceive our child, willingly or not, it makes no difference to me.”
Jessie brought her hand from behind her back as James leaned into kiss her. His lips stopped just millimeters from her mouth as cold steel sliced through his stomach. James had been so intent on his mission that he hadn’t even noticed that she had palmed the sacrificial knife from the table when she had turned and greeted him.
Jessie twisted the knife and shoved a shocked James away. He stumbled backwards into the alter, tipping it over as he fell to the ground; the hilt of the knife lay flush to James’ flesh as his blood began to surge from his body. Jessie didn’t waste any time. She turned towards the door and pulled until finally it began to open. She squeezed herself through the small opening she had managed to make and raced down the dark tunnel. She could hear her brother shuffling behind her, calling her name. She fell climbing the stairs which gave him enough time to catch up to her. He grabbed her hair as she started to climb, pulling her back down.
“You cannot escape your destiny,” the man-boy said in a reptilian voice. “We are meant to be together, Sister.” He reached a small hand around to grasp her breast as he pushed himself against her. Jessie took advantage of the obvious difference in strength and delivered a swift elbow backwards into his ribs. When he released her, she grabbed the back of his hair and slammed his face into the wall, over and over, until she heard the crunch of bone. Jessie dropped him and ran up the stairs.
Once she made it to the top she quickly closed the cellar doors and latched them shut. Then she ran to her car and popped the trunk. She grabbed the can of gas and a box of matches she had brought with her and ran back to the house. Her plan had been to burn the house to the ground because she hated it but now she realized just how important it was to destroy it.
Jessie poured gas and started small fires in every room of the house. As the flames spread to the walls, she ran outside with the matches and the remaining gas. She ran around to the cellar doors. She could hear her brother beating on the doors. He would soon break through the broken door. Quickly she poured the remainder of the gas on the cellar doors and threw a match. Within seconds the doors were engulfed in flames. The fires inside the house had spread and the entire building was burning.
“The house can’t protect you now, Brother!” Jessie screamed at the burning doors. She could hear his screams but she felt no compassion for him. Let his monstrous soul burn in hell. The curse would end with her.
Jessie walked back to her car. She sat behind the wheel and watched the house burn. The thick fog couldn’t hide the intensity of the flames. Exhaustion over took her and she fell asleep. When she woke it was morning. The fog had lifted and was gone. So was the house. All that remained was a smoking pile of ashes. She was certain James was dead but she had to see it for herself. She climbed out of the car and walked over to where the cellar doors had been. Both the stairs and the doors had burned leaving only a gaping hole. At the bottom of the hole was her brother. Half of his body was covered in burns. Her uncle had managed to get to the cellar doors; his burned body laid next to her brother’s. She didn’t know if it was the fire that had killed him or the stab wound to the abdomen. It didn’t matter. Dead was dead and this time James Calhoun really was dead.
Jessie returned to her car and climbed in. When she reached the end of the driveway she looked in her review mirror at the last glowing embers of the house. “Happy birthday, Jess, happy fucking birthday.” She drove without stopping to the Portland airport, leaving the rental car with the lot attendant. She caught the first flight available. It was headed to Houston and she lived in Chicago. She didn’t care; she just needed to get the hell out of Oregon and fast. Jessie didn’t relax until the plane was airborne and Oregon grew tiny below her.
Freddy was in charge of cleaning the rentals when they were returned. Sometimes he found things that were left behind by tourists in a hurry. He had found money, cameras, books, and even porn. He never turned the stuff in unless it was something he didn’t want or couldn’t hawk for grass money. Today as he vacuumed out the Toyota that had just arrived, he found a book in the backseat. It was an old book, leather bound and really thick. Curious, Freddy took the book around back of the detail shop, sat on the ground and lit a joint. Then he opened the book and began to read.