"Allison!" I shouted.
She sprang to her feet and whirled around to face me. She looked bewildered.
The acoustics were incredible. Even over the crackle of the fire her words carried over as if we were standing face to face.
"What are you doing here? How did you find this place? Are you alone?" she rapidly fired off the questions in her childish voice.
I only hesitated for a second –
"Yes, I'm alone. I saw your car at Widow's Hill and followed your footprints in the mud – what is this place? Are you all right?" I asked quickly, hoping to keep her off balance.
Her laugh rang eerily throughout the cave. The thing in the fire lurched and lumbered in the flames.
"I'm more than all right. I've been waiting so long for this night…" she was interrupted by a low cry from the baby.
I began talking like I had heard nothing.
"I – I've read about places like this in books. Never thought I would see one in real life. How long have you been coming here? It's so – so beautiful," I finished with as much awe in my voice as I could muster. Whatever was going on, I was in a dangerous position. My mind was speedily jumping through hoops to find a solution that would hopefully save the lives of all three of us.
"You can't stop me, Constance. You won't stop me. Soon, I will have so much! My parents tried to stop me. Bobby tried to stop me. And where are they now?" she sneered.
My heart nearly stopped as I pondered her meaning. "What do you mean?" I asked.
Her eyes flickered around the cavern.
"I discovered this place when I was a teenager. It had been abandoned, forsaken, and I, for a lack of a better word, restored it. So much knowledge is accessible nowadays. I may not have enjoyed school, but I certainly enjoyed learning about how to make all of my dreams come true. I told you before how I hated being poor. My parents were going to sell the shop. My shop. What should have been my inheritance when they died…" her voice trailed off.
I had to keep her talking. I hoped that Toby would soon finish with the trees and find the cave.
"What did you do, Allison?"
She shrugged her thin shoulders and brushed her pale fringe with her fingers. She looked tired, with dark circles under her eyes. The baby was quiet and motionless. Was he still alive?
Allison noticed that I had glanced at the altar.
"Don't worry. He's not dead. I'm a good mother. But what did you ask me? What did I do? I planted a grove of birch trees. Did you notice them, Constance? A perfect circle. I then purposefully crashed the car and watered those trees with my parent's blood. There's always a price, Rich Girl, there's always a price. But I was willing to pay. That was only the beginning. I waited until Bobby was out running when I found him and told him the news of my pregnancy. He was so surprised. Even more surprised when I pushed him off the cliff. He didn't even have time to scream. That was trickier getting his blood, but I managed it. Just as I managed to offer some of my newborn son's blood…wouldn't have been worth anything if it had been a girl…"
My throat constricted. I was revolted by the calmness of that high pitch voice that could so dispassionately talk of such things.
"In a few moments I will pass him to Molech, and, in exchange, I will receive such power – nothing will be denied me again. People won't look down at me or feel sorry for me; I will be successful in my business, and I will have so much money! Maybe not as much money as you, Constance, but that won't matter. You'll be dead!"
As she spat the words from her lips, something shot from her hand. Searing pain filled my consciousness – and I looked over in horror at the silver handled knife that now stuck out from my left shoulder. I slowly crumbled to the soft, sandy floor of the cave. What was happening? I couldn't move. It didn't make sense…
Allison was chanting a harsh, unknown language in her little girl voice, and the once silent baby was now wailing. Tears trickled from my eyes as I lay there unable to move. Molech, or whatever it was in the fire, seemed to grow even larger and move even faster than before. It was in a frenzy striding back and forth, back and forth. How much time was left? Where was Toby? I wondered if I would die. I thought about Cadbury and Elliott. I felt a pang too at the thought of leaving so much unfinished at Collinwood. Now, I would never know who my parents were.
Suddenly, Allison began shrieking; her voice going even higher and higher.
"What's wrong? What's happening? No! No! Don't leave me! Come back! Come back!" she screamed and gnashed her teeth as the shape in the fire began dissolving and the fire shrank to a normal size.
Allison tore at her hair and clawed her face as she screamed and cursed. I watched in terror as she grabbed the baby from the altar and held it high over her head; her visage twisted with such fear and desperation that I have never seen before or since on another person's face. Blood flowed freely from the gouges she had made in her own flesh. It was a horrible sight. Before she could pitch her son into the fire, it unnaturally vanished. Allison once more began to scream and curse.
"No! No! Forgive me! You promised me! You promised me!" she shouted into the encroaching darkness.
A low rumble filled the space; almost like an otherworldly voice in response. I could feel the vibrations beneath me and winced as a small shower of loosened debris from the ceiling fell, pinging me in the process. The noise and movement quickly stopped, but before I could assess what might happen next, large cracks began to appear in the cameos and chunks of the portraits began to fall heavily, crushing the flowers and incense bowls in their wake. I felt more cracks opening in the floor beneath me and became rather alarmed. My last sight of Allison and her son was as a large portion of the ceiling descended upon them both, crushing them to the ground. The candles went out and I was left in darkness. I knew I had no choice but to move. I could possibly die from the wound caused by the knife, but I most certainly would die if I continued to lay there. A new sound entered the cacophony of cracking and falling rock. It was the sea. It roared and deafened me as I struggled and willed my unresponsive body to move back to the craggy staircase. It would not obey me. I began pondering if I would drown or be crushed by falling rocks when I felt someone grab me – it was Toby. He had the foresight to grab a flashlight from the boot of the Range Rover when he went to collect the axe and its welcome glow shining full in my face nearly blinded me. His face paled as he saw the hilt of the knife in my shoulder
"Constance! Where's Allison? Where's the baby?" he yelled in my ear.
I could not answer.
Toby half carried me, half dragged me back to the car. He had to leave behind the axe and the flashlight as I could not move a muscle. The going was slow. A storm was raging and we were both soaking wet by the time we reached the Range Rover. Toby recklessly drove to the Collinsport hospital. I was amazed I hadn't gone into shock. Toby concocted some story for the emergency room attendants about a stranger being at Widow's Hill who attacked me and then ran off through the woods. Honey, who met us at the hospital, was naturally upset. While I was being attended to, I was relieved to discover that I was regaining the ability to move again. My vitals were strong and the doctor pronounced that the knife wound had not caused serious damage, but it would take some time to heal properly. He was puzzled at my initial paralysis and surmised that there must have been some sort of toxin on the blade. Fortunately, it must not have been too potent, but he was firm in his decision that I be kept overnight for observation. He also ordered a slew of blood work which would be immediately sent to Bangor for analysis.
Since I was apparently going to live, at least for the moment, Honey went off to visit Allison and her baby. Toby and I looked at each other. I frowned and shook my head at Toby. It was still difficult for me to speak; a raspy grunt was all I could manage. He knew what I was asking, though – Don't say anything to anyone! Not even Honey!
The police arrived and questioned Toby and I – I grunted and held up fingers to answer simple yes and no questions. We didn't say a word about seeing Allison's car. While the junior officer finished writing up the report, Honey returned to inform us that Allison and the baby had left the hospital hours earlier.
"I can't imagine why she would have left so soon! She should have stayed at least a couple of more days. I've called the shop, but the phone just rings and rings," said Honey in a worried voice.
Toby suggested they drive by the shop before going to my place to check on Cadbury. They promised to return in the morning with a fresh change of clothes for me. After they left, a very jovial nurse gave me a bath and I fell fast asleep.
The rain was still falling when I woke the next day. I had slept nearly twelve hours. There was a note by the bed that Toby had stopped by that morning with the clean clothes, but since I was still asleep, he would give me a call later. There were also a multitude of flowers and cards. News travels fast in a small town. The doctor who attended me the night before then came in and told me that the bloodwork was inconclusive. There would be further research, but since I seemed to have recovered the full use of all my necessary functions, I would be discharged in a couple of hours. I thanked him in a much stronger, raspy voice.
I called Toby and he told me that he would pick me up from the hospital and take me home. On the drive back to The Cottage he shared that Honey was deeply concerned that Allison was not at the shop when they stopped by the previous evening. Her car was not there either. Honey had returned that morning before she went to work, but Veronica swore that she had not seen Allison at anytime the day before. She reluctantly allowed Honey to check upstairs. All was neat and clean throughout the small rooms, but Honey received a terrible shock when she entered what she assumed was the nursery. It had been painted floor to ceiling in jet, black paint. And the only thing in it was the large, plush moose that I had bought. Honey called the police.
The police found Allison's car pretty quickly. Collinsport is a small village. Thanks to the heavy rainfall, whatever clues there may have been were washed away. They searched all over Widow's Hill and along the beaches and boulders below but found no sign of the new mother and her infant son. They weren't sure what to make of the birch trees they discovered hacked down further in the woods. And they never discovered the secret cave. No one ever will because it is gone. I myself went there once the excitement of the missing individuals died down. The ocean had completely destroyed it. Even the steps have been sheared off from the rest of the craggy rock. Perhaps the sea will give up Allison and her son. Perhaps they will lie forever pinned beneath the rocks. We will see.
Once my wound had healed sufficiently, Toby and I had a long discussion at The Cottage. I made a Chocolate Biscuit Cake which Toby enjoyed very much. So does the Queen. We were seated on opposite couches, in front of the fireplace. Cadbury was seated by Toby, in secret hopes that perhaps a crumb would fall. I told Toby all about the cave and what transpired there.
"I think it had been there easily since the 1600's. At least since whenever people starting arriving here from Europe. Who knows who started it. I think Allison took it one or two steps beyond that – it was a mixture of mother cult, Molech worship, sacred groves - which could come from so many ancient sources – it was certainly a hodge-podge of occult practices and idol worship," I said, as I sliced another generous portion of the sweet for Toby and myself. The silver coffee pot was still half full. Cadbury tried to stick his paw in the cream pitcher, but I gently swatted it away.
"That was intelligent of you to have me chop down those trees. It took days for the blisters to heal. I am not used to such hard labor," Toby said as he poured himself more coffee.
"I had no idea when I asked you to do that…that it was – how could I possibly know the connection of what Allison was involved in…I'm just glad that destroying those birches was successful in driving away that – that thing in the cave, Toby."
I put down my fork and gazed into the fire.
"I'm so sorry about your friend, Toby. I can't imagine what you and the others are going through. You've known Allison your whole life…I choked on the words and blew my nose.
"I suppose it is true that you can know someone your whole life, and possibly not really know them. I had no idea about this secret life that apparently Allison lived. No idea! I know Elliott and Michael are troubled about her disappearance. I've heard that Hannah is very, very upset. Constance, only you and I know what really happened. Only you and I know that she is dead. Will we ever…" he started to say.
"No! We can't Toby! What would people think if they knew the truth?"
"Honey wouldn't tell…" he tried again.
"No, Toby! I'm sorry, but it's best if this stays just between you and I – I'm sure you would not want Honey burdened with any of this. I know it's a terrible, horrible secret to have but, but…why should people know how disturbed Allison was? Who benefits from that knowledge? They're all dead. It won't change anything…," I clenched my hands, twisting the linen napkin between them.
"Constance, Constance, I won't. I promise," Toby sighed.
I told Toby about the tiny headstones in the cemetery, of the terra cotta shard I discovered the first time I entered the grove. They were all connected somehow with what went on in the cave. We inspected the silver knife that Allison had thrown at me. It was very old, but there were no apparent markings on it. Toby confiscated it so he could have it as a point of reference while he did research at the museum.
After he left, I felt so drained. I don't know why.
Weeks passed. I kept myself busy with meetings and plans. The stables were restored and fully functional at Collinwood and The Old House. I began researching horse breeds but decided to hold off actually purchasing a horse until the spring. The chapel was also now fully restored, and I found myself drawn there more and more. Many hours I spent in meditation and tears as I thought about what had transpired in September. I didn't sleep well. I found myself easily distracted and the tiniest upsets distressed me. October drifted into November, and I bought a new axe. I learned to shoot and chop wood though my shoulder still tightened up at times. My love for Elliott still caused me much turmoil, but I managed to be friendly and cheerful when we were together. I was a natural with a gun, but my chopping skills were haphazard.
One day I was moving things around in the garage when I discovered the box of bulbs that Allison had given me for my birthday. I threw them away. I did not need a seasonal reminder of her. The police were still searching for her and her son. The good people of Collinsport wondered if the unknown person who attacked me attacked them. Did she commit suicide? Did she perhaps just leave for a fresh start somewhere else?
The flower shop had been emptied of all product and locked up. There had been no will. Mrs. Fillmore told me that if it went up in a sheriff's auction, that Guy and Valerie would put in a bid.
I spent Thanksgiving at the inn, and thanked God for all the amazing changes that had come into my life that year. And for continued help in overcoming what had happened in the cave. I was still struggling. Fortunately, it did not impede my appetite and I tucked into succulent roast turkey with savory onion and celery stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes with hot, giblet gravy, turnips, squash, creamed onions and freshly baked rolls. I had made the pies; pumpkin and apple. From scratch. My crust was not perfect, but it tasted just fine.
Christmas is one of my most favorite times of the year. Collinsport was beautiful with its abundance of cheery lights and garlands of pine decorated with shiny ribbons and bows on almost every building. I hosted a giant, lavish Christmas party for all the employees of the cannery. I discovered that I do not like caviar. I gave handsome bonuses. I bought wonderful presents for all my friends stateside and across The Pond. I stuffed myself on mouth-watering prime rib, buttery scallops and sweet lobster at the inn on Christmas day. New Year's Eve I spent with Toby and Honey at The Blue Whale. Toby had proposed at Christmas. The diamond may have been small, but it twinkled brightly and so did their eyes. I whooped joyously and squeezed them both. Then Honey told me how Michael and Elliott had flown to Paris to connect with Hannah for the holidays. The night felt flat after that.
That feeling continued throughout January and February. As the investigation continued to prove fruitless, the disappearance of Allison and the baby became less of a priority. Until new evidence was found, it was more or less a cold case. Some people began to wonder if it had anything to do with the disappearance of the Collins family years before. Only Toby and I knew that the two were completely unrelated. I envied Toby's peace of mind. He had not had to witness what I did. I felt ashamed for thinking that way.
Then Miss Jacky reminded me during our latest chat that the date had passed for when I was supposed to fly to Alexandria to join Mr. Simmons for the dig. Another good reason to feel sorry for myself! Collinsport was having unprecedented snowfalls, and it wasn't unusual to be stuck indoors for days at a time. Even Cadbury didn't enjoy flouncing through the deep drifts anymore. Elliott had taken me sledding and snow shoeing when he had returned from Paris, but that was weeks ago and he had been busy with a case in Bangor ever since. I groused in my mind the unfairness of being stuck in snow when I could have been in a hot climate searching for buried tombs…it's never a good idea to wallow in self-pity.
So, the next day I strapped on my snow shoes and headed over to the chapel at The Old House. The sun was shining brightly and I was glad I wore my sunglasses, for the snow dazzled my eyes. The green of the firs and the pines were beautiful against the backdrop of the blue sky. I breathed deeply of the cold, resin-filled air. Cadbury decided to join me and raced ahead in hopes of catching an unsuspecting chipmunk. The sun caught the ginger highlights in his fur. The temperature was brisk and my breath made billows of "smoke" in the air. When I arrived at the chapel, I unlocked the padlock and settled down on one of the ornate benches. I was glad I was well clothed in my winter layers. It was frigid in the stone building. The old stained-glass windows were ablaze with sunshine and the sight made me smile. Cadbury popped his head in, but then darted back outside. He was on the prowl. I closed my eyes and began to pray. I thought of King David and how he expressed himself through the Psalms. He held nothing back. I chose to do the same.
When I left a half hour later, I truly felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I actually hummed and even attempted some whistling as I made my way back home. Cadbury bounded through the snow ahead of me and dove through his cat door. I pounded my feet to remove most of the snow before entering the kitchen. After I had taken off my warm wrappings, I filled the kettle and thought about what to make for dinner. A noise at the front door caught my attention. I went and opened the door but no one was there. But there was a package. I had a post office box in the village, wanting to spare the postal service from having to come to the estate. I heard the sound of an engine starting in the direction of the main driveway. Special delivery, perhaps. I easily picked up the package. It was long and thin. The postmark was from an island I was not familiar with in the Caribbean. My name and address were clearly written on the brown paper, but no return address.
Eagerly I opened the box and pulled out an elegant looking cane crowned with a silver wolf's head. Tied to it by a silver cord, was a man's ring featuring a large onyx stone. There was also a note. I opened it and read these words:
(This writing has nothing to do with Dan Curtis or Dan Curtis Productions. This is just the vivid imagination of a small town girl.)