when they come

When they found him, he was incoherent.

“They come in the night,” he said.

Evelyn knelt beside him. She scanned his face, coming to rest on his eyes. The two were joined for a moment, gaze-locked. Then he broke the silence, his eyes wandering to the floor as he muttered, “That’s when they come.”

Evelyn stood. She looked over her shoulder at Cara. She shook her head.

Looking back at him, wreck of a man that he was, Evelyn spoke gently. “Stay here, Dugal. Cara and I will have a look around.”

They left him in the foyer. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his eyes focus on something neither of the women could see.

When they were outside, Cara asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

Evelyn shrugged. “He was never quite right, that one. When we were kids, he used to play in the wine cellar. He liked the dark. It always unnerved father.”

“No matter,” Cara said. “I don’t like it. There’s something wrong with this place. What’s he doing out here all on his own?”

Evelyn looked out across the yard. The apple trees were still standing, but their fruit was rotten, dead and black. So unlike she remembered it. So very different from the home of her childhood.

“I don’t know. After what happened to mother and father, I didn’t want any part of this place. If I could have sold it, I would have. Dugal begged to stay. He said someone should. He cried—pleading with me—so I told him he could look after the grounds. I assumed he would find it too depressing when everyone else was gone. I had no idea he’d stay on for more than a decade.”

Cara moved closer to Evelyn, an arm wrapped around her waist. “Perhaps we should just leave.”

Evelyn shook her head. “We can’t abandon him. Not with the reports from the neighbors.”

Cara spoke softly. “It’s just him, dearheart. I’m sure of it. If he’s been here alone for that long, he’s surely gone mad. There’s nothing for us to do but go back to the city and make arrangements for an asylum.”

Evelyn stood facing the yard, but she saw scenes from two decades past. Her mother and father enjoying a cool autumn day. She could still smell the harvest air and feel the cool breeze blowing in from the east. She remembered how the sun sank into the horizon, streaking the sky with orange and pink like an explosion across the expanse.

And if she listened, her mother’s voice was there on the wind. “What is that?” she asked. “It looks like the scarecrows are moving …”

Then came the screams. Terrors moving through the fields. The wildness of it all, feeling half-mad while she ran for her life.

She lost them. Dugal, too—his mother had been a maid. He had grown up with her like a bastard son her father couldn’t quite accept. But he was no bastard. His father was dead, and her father had given him as much guidance as the boy would accept.

But he had never been quite right, that one.

Cara’s hand moved along Evelyn’s spine and she jumped. “Sorry, love,” she said, sensing she had startled her companion.

“It’s no bother,” Evelyn said. “I was just … remembering.”

“Best that you don’t,” Cara told her. Then she kissed her temple and said, “Come. Let’s go back to the city.”

“In the morning,” Evelyn said. “We can at least stay the night with him.”

She didn’t want to, but Cara agreed. They made one of the bedrooms inhabitable and managed to find enough fresh food to make a meal. They shared it with Dugal, who was quiet throughout. Only when the sun began to set did he speak again.

His eyes drifted to the back window, the yard now ribboned with shadows and ghost memories. Looking out into the darkness, he whispered.

“They come in the night,” he said. “That’s when they come.”

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