Preview of The Forgiving (part 2 of 4)
As promised, here is the next part. Once again, it’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part two of chapter one of The Forgiving. (click for part 1)
Next door to Jacobi House stood the smaller, less remarkable, Stonecipher House. After the railway had connected Portland to the other side of the Willamette River in the early 1900’s, the Stonecipher tradesmen, mostly carpenters, built their beautiful, blue and white Victorian Revival next door for the same reason lighthouse keepers build family lodging near lighthouses; the Stonecipher men took shifts in Jacobi House (fixing plumbing, replacing rot and rust, minding the electric, remodeling whole rooms), but needed housing for their women and children that wasn’t so harsh and unforgiving.
Stonecipher House had passed down through the generations, along with the care-taking of Jacobi House, until there were only three Stoneciphers left: a mother and her two children.
On the second floor of Stonecipher House, in an austere bedroom, five-year-old Molly Stonecipher pretended to sleep.
On the wall above her headboard hung an oak crucifix carved by a Muslim slave during the Middle Ages. A realistic Jesus Christ, in striking sorrow and agony, watched over Molly in her bed. Lashes crisscrossed his emaciated abdomen and obvious ribcage, and blood rivulets were craved on his face, streaming from his thorn crown. At the cross’s base, below the corpus, a skull and crossbones referred to the original name of Calvary: the Place of the Skull.
Under Christ’s watchful eye, under a quilt made from rent dresses, Molly bided her time, her slight body trembling with anticipation.
She wasn’t the only Stonecipher awake. Down the hall, Alexander, her older brother by a year, ran water into a glass in a bathroom sink.
A naked light bulb, screwed in beside a medicine cabinet, gave off harsh light and heat, and Alex repeatedly glanced at the intense filament and then watched the spot in his vision fade. How long before the spot would become permanent on his retina? Maybe then the darkness would stay away.
He poured the water down the sink and refilled the glass. He didn’t want to go back to bed; he’d just have another nightmare: a black terror-void, fangs and hissing. His dry tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. The dreamed rope burns still stung his wrists.
He ran his wrists one at a time under cold water. It helped, a little.
Molly, thinking everyone finally asleep, opened her eyes and folded back the quilt their mother had made. It was time.
Without a sound, she slipped out of bed. Her heavy nightgown reached down to the tops of her feet. It was too dark to see anything besides the square of her window, but she knew her room well.
With purpose, she tiptoed across a hardwood floor.
She climbed onto a child’s desk in front of the window.
She pulled open the window. It slid up easily this time—she had forced it open earlier that day to let in fresh air—and just like before, thieving wind rushed in. The air felt unnaturally warm for a night this late in September, balmy like an exhaled breath. It swirled the room, creaked her door open to the light of the hall, and revealed Alex on his way back to bed.
Lit by the hall light and still crouched on her desk, she looked back at him. There he stood in his starched PJs, holding a glass of water, with an expression she couldn’t read. Would he tell Mother?
“Are you running away?” he whispered.
The weeks following their father’s death, Alex often felt like running away; he imagined stuffing his backpack with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and running north as far as Washington, maybe even further. Father had been the only air in the suffocating house. Without him, the walls closed in. The ceiling of religion came down until the only thing to do was to crawl. Then Alex started first grade and life became bearable again. He now suffered through the nights knowing relief would soon come in the mornings. He understood if his sister, who never left the house, who never talked with anyone outside the family, also wanted escape.
He was wrong. She never dreamed of escape, never even thought it existed. For her, this wasn’t a night for running away; this was a night for confronting the nightmare that had stood next door to them all their lives. At five years old, she had already had enough of Jacobi House.
She shook her head. “I lost her. To the House.” She always called it the House. Their mother called it Jacobi House and sometimes the House of Skulls.
What a horrible place to be lost, he thought, but who was his sister talking about? She didn’t have friends, and their mother was sound asleep in her own bed downstairs.
Molly didn’t explain, instead she awkwardly backed off the desk and out the window into the night. He did nothing to stop her. He felt everything was too late, as if this had all played out before and would play out again.