Blood will out.
“Well, at least the rain held off”, Jess offered, almost apologetically.
The drive home from the cemetery had been conducted in awkward quietness and her innocent attempt to break the oppressive silence had resulted in an increasingly heavy atmosphere made worse by the fact that the rain she had so, obligingly, mentioned now began to thrash down as if to spite her. It fell in large drops that splashed on the road and streamed down the windows relentlessly. She caught herself noticing Jack’s reflection in the glass, distorted by the rain that attacked the outer surface so that his whole demeanour seemed to be made of tears, the tears he refused to shed in his anger and grief. Why do men refuse to weep, she thought.
Her father drove in silence, their mother beside him. It had been a harrowing day. The third funeral in as many weeks, or was it more than three weeks? She admitted to herself that it had all been a blur, over in a heartbeat but endless too. This, she considered, had been the hardest, particularly for poor Jack.
The first had been for Uncle Edward. Funny, they had still called him uncle through their teens and into their twenties. He was a friend of her fathers, not a relation as such, one of those friends of parents that seem to have existed always, and now. That certainty had been obliterated. It had been an agonising death by all accounts. She had been spared the details, kept distant and uninformed, which Jess both resented and understood. She had learnt more of the circumstances than either of her parents knew. It had been a house fire, the scene gruesome enough for her to understand why her parents had tried to keep her distanced from it. His wife Georgina had died from her burns a week or so later. Jess wondered for a moment, it was funny they always called her Georgie and never Auntie something…
“This weather’s atrocious”, the first words her mother had spoken since they had left the burial. Her father did not reply and Jack remained distant next to Jess, staring blankly at the headrest behind her father’s thinning hair.
“Just twenty two!”, her mother began quietly sobbing.
Jess noticed Jack’s lip trembling and he buried his head away from her, his forehead cold against the side window.
Sarah, Edward’s and Georgie’s only daughter, had, indeed, died young, just eighteen months older than me, thought Jess. She had been kept alive, if you could call it a life, for a week more than her mother. Jess supposed that being young and healthy had meant that Sarah had battled for survival the longest, eventually losing the fight, not that she would have had much of a life with those injuries. Jess had lost a friend.
“Back with her mum and dad, now”, she murmured.
Jack’s head turned sharply and he scowled at Jess, began to form words and then turned once again to look, aimlessly and with unfocussed, tear filled eyes, out of the car window.
Sarah had also been Jack’s girlfriend.
The deaths had been that shocking that the police had suspected foul play and investigated thoroughly. It had been a necessary action but one that had added to the distress of it all. It seemed that the extent of the injuries did not resemble the usual pattern, as the fire investigation team had termed it, then there was the red sand found in each of the rooms that contained a body. Apart from these unsolved points nothing more had been discovered, well, nothing she had been made aware of. She was aware of one thing though. Something that intrigued her and, in a way, scared her, well, Jess did not like to admit to being frightened by anything, so she preferred to admit to herself that it concerned her. The police had asked her father if he had removed any possessions from Edward’s house and her father had answered in the negative. Jess knew something, but she loved her father, more importantly, she trusted him, but she knew for certain he had removed something; he had taken Uncle Edward’s notebook, which he kept in a safe in his study.
“I should try to give Henry a call again”, her father said, eyes fixed on the wet road, “when we get back”.
Uncle Henry was her other non-uncle. The words were left unanswered. Uncle Henry had not been around for about a month or so. He, his wife and two boys had gone on holiday, they should have returned by now but there had been no news of them, no news at all. A trip to the wilds of Canada, it had been a surprise, special treat for their youngest son who had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday. Jess realised then that the party had been the last time the three families had been together. It had been a joyous occasion, at least Jess thought it had been, but some niggling doubt had now entered her mind. She seemed to recall that the three men; Edward, Henry and her father had been rather muted, as if pre-occupied by something. Perhaps it was a muddled memory, everyone had been so unhappy since, since….the tragedy, she gave up trying to put her memories in order and joined Jack staring out at the rain, her head resting on the pane. The journey was taking an age in this weather, the drone of the engine, the warmth in the car. Jess allowed her eyes to close and her thoughts to fall to what she had read in that diary.
She was unsure how long she had dozed; it felt as if it had been a matter of moments. As she had drifted off she remembered hearing her mother turn on the radio to get a weather report. There had been a local news station, something about the bodies of a local family being found in a burnt out wood cabin in Canada. At the same time she had been jolted awake as her father swerved the car violently, “Christ! What the hell does he think…..” her father had cursed under his breath and she had been aware of the lights and the sound of a large lorry screaming past them on the road. In that split second between waking and sleeping she could not comprehend how the collision had been avoided and how they were still on the road, this never ending monotonous road. She murmured something like “did you hear that?” referring to the news item, but none of her family cared to answer. Her parents’ heads were unmoving staring straight ahead and Jack still had his head buried in his own thoughts. What had she been thinking about? Oh, yes, the diary. She had sneaked a look at it. It was more of a journal really, and it had confused and frightened her. The car was stifling and she asked for the heating to be turned down, but she was either unheard or ignored. “Typical”, Jess said to herself, “no one ever listens to me!”.
The journal: It was from the days when her father, Edward and Henry had been out in South America somewhere. They had all left the army and gone to Peru, Jess thought, or Chile, or somewhere, to “make a bit of cash” as the journal stated. It was always a bit of their past that they were reluctant to discuss. Jess could stand the warmth no longer and decided to unwind her window, but the handle was jammed, she was beginning to get very annoyed. The journal referred to some sort of temple or religious place and it seemed that the three men had taken something of value, tricked the priest or shaman, or whoever was in charge of this place and he had laid a curse on them. The form of which was that the three men would enjoy their wealth until the last of their sons became a man and then the god of this temple would seek them out and destroy them. It all seemed a bit of a fantastic story and at the time all three had laughed it off. Jess could tell from the entries in Uncle Edward’s journal, they all thought it a joke. Then Jess recalled how reluctant Uncle Henry had been to start a family. He was the oldest of the three friends and the last to have children, but once he had a son, he was keen to have more. Another son had been born, but after that they were told it could be dangerous for his wife to become pregnant again, yet still he had insisted. Jess remembered the miscarriage.
was one recent entry on the last page, “John is a man now”
It had been John’s eighteenth birthday party. Jess opened her eyes,
she could smell smoke, acrid; a stuffy heat, as if the engine was over
heating and that smell of hot paint. Another news bulletin, she half listened
to it, too tired to fully awake, she felt so drowsy and they should have
been home by now, why was it taking so long? The god had been some form
of fire god, the statues were always made from local red sand and, the
journal had said, the redness of that sand was enhanced by the blood of
sacrifices, bled from the victims before they were burnt, or so it was
told in local folklore. The second news bulletin had said something about
red sand, hadn’t it, oh, she did not know anymore. It had said something
else too, about snarl ups caused by a traffic accident, so that was why
it was taking an eternity. She look over at Jack, his head was more forward
now and stuck at a funny angle against the window. Her father’s
hair looked even thinner and his skin… she giggled, but it sounded
more like a gurgle. An eternity? That had been the curse, that each family
would die by fire but never find rest. Dead but not dead. Condemned to
an eternal, endless journey. Her mother bent forward to turn up the radio,
her hand was blackened and clenched in a tight, brittle fist. Traffic
was being delayed because of a tragic accident, a collision between a
petrol tanker and a family returning home from a funeral. Jess caught
sight of her self in the rear view mirror, but it was not her face, it
was not really any sort of face at all. Her mother began to turn towards
her, but Jess just buried her blackened head into the sharp twigs of her
fingers and no tears could fall.