House of Echoes: A Novel by Brendan Duffy
December 23, 1777
It is over now, sister, but for how long?
From our window I still see the Drop. I see the fields and forest where we once played. I can still see our brothers tumble in the grass and hear the elder tree whistle as the wind tears through its branches. However, I know in my heart that it is all gone. It is gone and it shall not return in this life.
I am cold, Kathy. I see my breath and I cannot feel my feet, but I do not care. Not even fear is left in my heart. Fear has departed with hate and anger, and hope has been a stranger for longer still. Now there is nothing left but me, and I cannot face my reflection.
There are demons in us, Kathy. I see that now. Our blood is cursed, and doom haunts us always. It is too late for us, but I pray it is not too late for you.
Should this letter find its way to you, sister, you will think me mad. You may not understand now, but you must stay far from this place. Forget that you ever called it home. Do not even whisper its name to the children I pray you will one day have. I wish you many children, Kathy. If there is any goodness left in this land, I pray it will find its way to you.
Remember me as I was, dear sister, when we slept in peace and our every dream seemed possible. I cannot sleep anymore.
There were times in each day when Ben believed a happier life waited only for them to claim it. He was a dreamer by trade, and it didn’t seem far-fetched to hope their troubles would depart as quickly as they had surfaced. Such optimism was purest in the clear mornings when he took Hudson on the day’s first walk.
Spring had come late but suddenly. The last of the snow had melted only weeks ago; now the grass was nearly to Ben’s waist. He monitored Hudson’s progress through the fields by reading the furrow carved by the beagle’s passage.
The dew had evaporated but its chill lingered, and the breeze carried its own bite. The wind was strong and invigorating on this part of the Drop—the plateau that sat in the lap of two mountains, hulking cousins of the Adirondack Range. The updraft from the valley sent the acreage undulating as if it were a single breathing thing.
He put his hand to his eyes to shield them against a gust and did his best to keep track of the dog. Hudson had picked up the scent of something and filled the air with his ecstatic baying. No one was happier about the Tierneys’ new life in the mountains than the beagle. His previous circumstances having amounted to little more than a Manhattan apartment, Hudson hardly knew what to do with a thousand acres of field, forest, and lake. If he missed his dog-walk runs and leashed jaunts down the avenues, he hid it well.
Ben smiled and dropped his hand to his pocket, searching for his phone before remembering that he’d left it back at the Crofts, their home on the Drop. He hardly carried it around anymore, but like a phantom limb he sometimes imagined its presence.
He watched the dog dart from the field and across the gravel drive that connected the Crofts with the county road nearly a mile away. The husk of a shattered outbuilding was just a hundred yards off the drive, on the near side of another copse of trees, and the beagle made straight for it.
Ben cupped his hands around his mouth and called Hudson’s name. Ruined structures of uncertain purpose were scattered across the Drop, but Ben had picked his way through this particular one not long after he and Caroline had closed on the property. The place was a mess. The roof had caved in, and the rotting floor was on the brink of collapse under the weight of rusting farming equipment and other scrap. Anyone could see it was a death trap.
He called Hudson again, but he was too far away; Ben could feel his shout whipped back to him by the steady wind from the valley.
Clearing these outbuildings was something Ben had wanted taken care of before they moved in, but that was a battle he’d lost. Caroline thought that they contributed to the ambience. She imagined the guests at their inn roaming the grounds, delighting in the discovery of some ancient building from a forgotten time. She said this would give their guests a sense of ownership over their stays at the Crofts, so that the Tierneys’ inn would become a place they’d return to year after year.
Their son, Charlie, was forbidden from venturing anywhere near the ruined buildings, but even an eight-year-old was easier to control than a beagle that had just plucked a tantalizing smell from the air.
Ben broke into a run when he cleared the tall grass. He’d lost sight of Hudson, but a mournful howl told him the dog was close by.
The wind backed off as Ben ran across the gravel drive, and he didn’t need to be a dog to pick out the scent that had captured Hudson’s attention. It was a musky smell with metallic notes, the tang of an animal, a tease of death that hadn’t yet turned sweet.
Ben reached the building and was greeted by Hudson, eyes big and beseeching, tongue wagging.
“In trouble again,” Ben said.
He crouched to give Hudson a rough rub around his neck, and the beagle’s panting slowed.
“You stink, too.” His hands came away from the dog, smeared red. He resisted the impulse to wipe them on his jeans.
Hudson gave a short bark and executed a small circle in front of Ben.
“All right, show me,” Ben told him, and followed the dog around the shattered building.
He wasn’t surprised by the death; he had guessed as much from the smell. It was the blood that caught him short.
The animal looked as if it had burst. The creature’s entrails were spread over several yards in two perpendicular streaks of intersecting gore.