A Long-Forgotten Madness

By Charles Matthias

Part IV: Poco agitato

Ana did not want to speak to him. And, he had to admit to himself, he did not really want to speak to his sister either.

William spent a good ten minutes sitting on the porch swing after Mr. Mansbridge had driven off. And he sat down only because his knees had become wobbly. His thoughts flit about, scouring the whole of the ranch that would be his by his father’s will, to the rumours of murder that circled his father’s death. It was impossible to keep everything straight.

The implication in the lawyer’s words were clear. Some thought that Ana had killed their father. William shook his head at that. No, he did not believe it. Ana may still be angry with him for leaving Montana twenty years ago, but she would never have killed their father.

How many people killed their relatives for a chance at the inheritance? It happened all the time in crime dramas, or at least, the ones he had seen. But the inheritance had come to him, not to Ana. And she had not been disappointed. In fact, she’d been excited at the prospect of him staying to run the ranch, only getting angry when he had said he did not want it. If she had wanted it, would she have been so against the idea?

William shook his head again and lowered his face into his hands. Rumours were rumours. This was almost certainly the gossip of vicious lips. Still, even if it wasn’t murder, his father was still dead. There was the matter of the inheritance to work out.

He went back inside then to see if he could locate Ana and discuss matters with her. He did not truly wish to speak with her, not wanting to provoke another argument, but it had to be done. This was not his home, he reminded himself. He looked through the parlour, the dining room, the kitchen, and everywhere else on the main floor, but Ana was nowhere to be found.

Old Mrs. Pritchard was in the kitchen preparing oysters. William could not help but smile slightly. He had always loved her oysters. “Mrs. Pritchard,” he said very loudly, almost a shout. “Have you seen Ana?”

She turned and smiled to him, her face wrinkled, but serene. “Miss Ana went to the stables. She looked kind of angry. Did you say something to upset her?”

Under that grandmotherly gaze, William could not help but feel guilty. “I’m afraid so. I am going to apologize to her.” He turned and headed out the back door, feeling something else slowly coming over him. Some calmness to his spirit that had been lacking before.

William did not go very far outside before he ran into Gareth. The younger man nodded heavily to him, his lips set in a thin line. “Will, good to see you. What are you doing?”

“I was going to find my sister. I was told she went to the stables.”

Gareth nodded, looking back over his shoulder at the low edifice. Already the scent of horse was filling William’s nostrils. “She’s pretty angry right now. She said she didn’t want to speak to you in fact. Sent me out here to stop you actually. You really shouldn’t upset her like that.”

Grunting, William gazed intently at the stables as if he would catch her face in one of the doorways staring back. “I just told her the truth. I don’t want the ranch. Not anymore.”

Gareth frowned then for a moment, shifting his boots beneath him. A smile creased his lips after a moment. “I remember when I was five years old you helped me ride my first pony. Do you remember that?”

The smile was infectious and soon crossing his own face. “Yes.” The warmth of memory washed over him like gentle waves. “Yes, I remember. The cowboy outfit you had on was so adorable. You even had that little silver sheriff star.”

“You always told me how you wanted nothing more than to run the ranch and raise your family here,” Gareth continued. “And I was going to be your right hand man.” He looked about the yard, turning, his eyes scanning the wind swept fields. “Well, you can make that come true. Everyone would love to have you back.”

William sucked in his breath. “Yes, I’m sure they would. It is a nice dream. But I don’t live here anymore. This place has too many... I don’t know, bad memories I guess.”

“Scott? Your mother?”

His nod was short and sharp. “Yes. I cannot look at this place and see anything but their touch. I’m sorry, Gareth.”

Gareth turned and stared out over towards the stables. Job was visible in the doorway, carrying what looked to be a hammer. “I don’t live her anymore either, Will. But I had to live here many years after your mother and Scott died. And after you left. This place was very sad for a few years. But, there was always new life and new memories to be made. This place is happy for me again. It can be for you too, Will.”

Will opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. A part of him felt a rising eagerness at the thoughts that were even now swirling in his mind. But there was that other part of him, that part that twitched every time he looked at the horses, that resisted all the more strongly.

His eyes wandered over the fields, looking at the horses again, trying to understand what it was that bothered him so. There was a nameless fear that lurked inside his mind, locked away for twenty years. He could feel its edges and contours, but could not discern its reason. Was it foolish? If so, then it could be undone. But was it something more instead?

Out in the field he saw the bay mare and the sable stallion next to her. The mare was standing now grazing slowly, matronly. Beside her the sable seemed to watch guard. It’s deep eyes found Will and held that gaze. William felt his heart quicken. The equine eyes were expectant, waiting.

“I...” William said, tearing his gaze away. “I have to sit down and think about this some.” He patted Gareth on the shoulder as he turned back to the house. “Tell Ana I am thinking about this, and I hope we can talk a bit later.”

“Right. I’ll let her know.” Gareth turned back towards the stables. The scent of horse lingered.

William did not venture outside the house again that afternoon. Instead, he stayed inside and sat pondering the directions that his life could take. He had reached a juncture, and suddenly possibilities that would have been foreign to him only month ago were now once again real. His childhood and all that he had grown up with had been put on hold for twenty years. Could he just pick that back up again? Was it possible, as Gareth said, for him to make new happy memories in this home?

Or would this place continue to be dominated in his mind by that last year, when his brother Scott had given into madness and ended his own life so soon after their mother had been taken by cancer?

Merely dwelling on that last year brought a chill to his flesh, and so he built a fire in the hearth, and sat by it as he considered. The orange flames licked upwards, smoke curling into the chimney. His eyes stayed fixed on those dancing flames, lost amidst the tongues of yellow and orange. Wood burned, glowing a deep red, until it blackened into charcoal and ash.

William remembered his younger brother, the bright face, and the ever present baseball caps he wore. There was a laugh to his voice that had gone out of the world, a simple delight that had always brought cheer to William’s heart. And a total devotion to the family. Scott had never really had friends outside of the family. His life had been absorbed within every one else’s and with the horses.

He smiled lightly as he remembered the way that Scott had tipped his hat to the horses when he passed, how he had spoken to them only in a voice of awe and love. As William thought on it, he realized that he could never imagine Scott being anywhere else. Though they had many memories of baseball games, that had only ever been Scott’s second love. The first was the family and its horses.

At one time, William had loved them too. A part of him still did he knew. They were magnificent creatures, full of power and depth. His ride that morning had been exhilarating. But there was a poison too. It came back to him slowly, ever so slowly, but as he stared into the embers of flame, he began to finally remember. In those last days, Scott had been so happy. So eagerly attentive to the horses. And then, when he could be no happier, the horses had claimed his life... somehow.

He did not understand how or why, since Scott had hanged himself, but he knew it to be true. The reason for it still eluded him. William frowned and lost himself in the flame as he tried to understand why. And to ask himself if he could tend to those horses that he blamed so fiercely. He knew now that was why he had left Montana in the first place. And why horses had for so long filled him with a nameless dread.

Still, William wanted to believe it was all the folly of youth. He wanted to believe that he could stay and be happy. But as the flames began to lower and lower, waning until they were nothing more than a soft warm glow upon the remnants of logs, William began to realize deep down that he did not want to let go either. There could be no going back so long as he did not understand why he blamed the horses.

Perhaps counselling could unearth his inner demons. But this was a decision that had to be made soon. He had no time to banish psychological boogeymen. Ultimately, he had a life in Chicago that made him happy. It was not perfect, but he was content. Montana would always be a gamble, and one that had long odds.

At some point, William had taken the black poker and begun to stir the last of the ashes together in the hearth. He was not quite sure when this was, but he had been at it for some time when the little boy Elliot interrupted him. “Mr. William, sir,” the boy called out from only a few feet away. He had grass stains on his breeches. “Mr. William, sir. Mrs. Ana sent me to tell you to come to dinner. She said she invited you, Mr. William.”

He snorted and then felt a half smile creep over his face. “Of course. Thank you, Elliot.” The boy turned and nearly tripped over his own feet in his hurry to get out of the room. William caught at his shirt for a moment before the boy could get away. “You’re in an awful hurry there. Is the house on fire?”

“Beth’s giving birth to the twins, Mr. William!” The excited delight in the boy’s face was honest. It nearly exploded from every inch of his skin. “My grandfather said I could help!”

“Well, then you better run along.” William smiled once more and let the boy go. Elliot took off running the moment that his shirt was free.

William could not help but feel a pang of remorse for his own lost youth. He knew it was something he could not have back though. Just as he could never have his parents or Scott back, or even Ana really, his own youth was lost to him. With a grunt, he hefted himself to his feet and returned the poker to its stand. There was the strong scent of oysters in the air, and he let himself follow it to the dining room.

Ana was there waiting for him. The dining room table could extend to nearly fourteen feet with all of the leaves placed in, but at present, there were none. Even still, the two settings were on opposite ends and a good eight feet apart. In the centre of the table was the platter of cooked oysters. Melted butter lay in two small bowls on opposite ends. There was a bit of wine poured as well, a delicate white.

“Hello, Will,” Ana said, smiling slightly to him. “Thank you for joining me.” She looked away from him and at the floor. “I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was just...”

“No, Sis, don’t say it,” William replied, holding up one hand. “We’re both pretty emotional right now, and there is a lot to think through.” He smiled a bit wider, trying to catch her eye. “Besides, you know I can’t resist oysters.”

Ana’s lips twitched ever so slightly, and she turned towards the distant chair. “I helped make them. Mrs. Pritchard taught me years ago how to make them.”

“Well, I’m sure they’ll be good. But I thought you would have wanted to see the twins being born?”

“I will, but later. First, I want to sit down and have a nice dinner with you, Will.” She smiled warmly to him then. “It’s been far too long since we have done anything like that. I want to enjoy this moment with you.”

William felt a warmth in her words that had been missing ever since he’d met her at Logan Airport. It was a warmth he had not heard from her in over twenty years. The warmth a sister has for her brother, whom she loves deeply. “Thank you, Sis,” was all he could say.

William then took his plate and stepped to the middle of the table where he selected several choice mussels from the platter. Ana waited until he was done before taking her own portion. He smiled lightly to her and held up his plate in salute before returning to his seat. After she was seated, William said a silent prayer and then lifted the oyster shell to his lips and sucked out the delicious meat.

He smiled as the warmth rushed across his tongue, a succulent delicacy that he had always adored. It was rich in texture, exciting not only his tongue, but his gums as well. There was a slightly bitter aftertaste that he could not recall, but it was subsumed into the flavour of the next oyster.

Neither of them spoke for several minutes as they one by one ate the oysters. There were a few left on the platter in the middle, but only a few. William had already eaten half of his when he took a sip from the wine. It was very light in both aroma and taste, almost dancing across his teeth as it washed to his throat.

“Well, Sis, that is good.” William smiled as he picked up yet another delicious mussel.

Ana smiled as she ate hers down. She seemed to be watching him closely, a bit apprehensively, though that faded as they ate. Her smile obliterated even the look of concern in her eyes. “Good. I was hoping that you would like them.”

“Now,” William said after swallowing the meat, “we really ought to talk a bit rationally about what we want to do with the ranch. I’m sorry I upset you earlier, I was just, very surprised.”

Ana nodded at that, an uneaten oyster in her hand. She took a sip from the wine instead. “I know. But let’s talk after we finish eating, okay?”

“Of course.” William was only too happy to eat. The bitter aftertaste may have been unpleasant, but the scrumptious nature of oysters in general made up for it. He found that if he sipped his wine after each mussel the foul taste would be washed out, and so he did that until his plate held nothing but an empty shells.

Ana was finished only a moment later. She gestured at the small pile of oysters still on the platter. “Did you want some more?”

William shook his head. “Maybe a bit later. I’m good right now. And besides, we do need to talk.”

Ana took a deep breath and nodded slowly. “Yes, it’s time. Gareth told me what you said to him. How you have only sad memories of this place. I understand that, Will. Things were hard after Mom died. And I know you and Scott were close. But there were a lot of happy memories made here when we were all together as a family. You must have those too.”

“Yes,” Will admitted. He leaned back a bit in his chair and sipped more of the wine. He felt a little light-headed. “Yes, there are many happy memories. But things went so wrong after Mom died, I just cannot ignore that. Scott went crazy, Sis. Do you realize some of the stuff he believed and did? And then he killed himself over it. He wasn’t depressed at all, Sis. I read his journal last night. The last thing he ever wrote...”

“‘They saved Mom, and now I go to join her and keep her company. They prepared a place for me too.’” Ana did not smile as she quoted the journal. “It took me a long time to understand what he meant by that.”

“I had forgotten most of what Scott had told me after Mom died. It’s been coming back to me ever since I arrived. He’d told me of it at the time. I didn’t believe it and I think that made the heartbreak all the worse.”

“And what did he believe, Will?”

William sighed heavily as he brought to mind his eager little brother. He could see him smiling with his trademark baseball cap making his ears stick out to either side. “He believed that the horses on our ranch were special. They had powers, were gods, or something. I even saw him doff his hat to them when he walked passed them.” William took a quick drink of his wine. Ana was watching him intently, almost eagerly, waiting for him to finish what he had started. “Scott believed that the night Mom died in the hospital she was reborn as a horse in our stables. And I can only guess that he believed he would be too when he died.”

Ana nodded her head slowly at that. “He never spoke to me as much as you, so I had to figure that out from the clues he left behind. Do you remember what you were doing the night Scott hanged himself?”

William thought back to that horrible day. Not a week after Scott had killed himself, he had fled for Chicago. The grief was too overpowering, the sense of madness that had settled upon their home too claustrophobic. But the night had started out so well, he recalled. His eyes slid along the wall, over towards the window. It looked out on the pasture outside. The day was darkening as the sun fell to the horizon. But he could see one of the horses standing out there with head upraised.

“I was in the stables with Old Job helping him deliver a colt.” Even as the words left his mouth, he felt an icy chill settle in his stomach. “No... was that it? Did Scott kill himself that night so he could be that colt?”

“Yes, he did,” Ana replied, a note of sadness in her voice. “He loved Mom so deeply that he wanted to join her so that he could keep her company. He truly did believe that Aloysha was Mom.”

William shook his head and let out a long sigh. “Madness. He was such a wonderful brother. Why did he have to give in to madness?”

Ana gave him a long sideways glance. “What if it wasn’t madness?”

He looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”

“What if Scott was right? What if Aloysha really was Mom? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing, to have had her here with us all this time, just in another form?”

William grunted, feeling rather queasy. “Sis, Mom is dead. She has passed on to the next life.”

“Yes, she did. And what if that next life was as a horse? Think about it, Will. It’s not so crazy as you think. Try to remember. How did Aloysha behave? She always seemed a little sad. You even said so on several occasions. And she was always trusting with us, and liked to be able to touch us. You remember that.”


“And the colt that was born the night Scott died. He tried to get close to you repeatedly before you left.”

“I do not really remember much from that week.” He did not like where te conversation was going. Nor did he like the rather eager intensity that had come to life in his sister’s eyes. She was leaning forward across the table more and more, and William was leaning more and more back away from her.

“You met him today, Will. The sable that was with Aloysha, Scotsman? It really is Scott. And Aloysha really is Mom. It took me so long to accept it, but it is true. Scotsman has always been very protective of Aloysha, almost never leaving her sight, ever since he was old enough to be weaned. And it is because Scott wanted to keep Mom company. And he has for twenty long years. They have both missed you greatly, and have been so happy to see you again. You felt that, didn’t you? You felt that he was glad to see you?”

“Ana, this is nonsense. A person does not become a horse when they die. Horses are very perceptive of our feelings, and quite frankly, I think you’ve projected your own loss onto both Aloysha and Scotsman. They are just horses. Get this silly notion out of your head, Sis. Scott killed himself over it.” Strangely, there was a quaver in his voice. He did not want to see his sister follow the same road. And he was frightened because he did not see any way he could really stop her short of moving back to Montana and making sure she was admitted to psychiatric care.

Perhaps, he wondered, that was exactly what he was supposed to do. Perhaps, saving her would absolve him for doing nothing to stop Scott’s descent into madness.

Ana nodded slowly then, and leaned back from the table. “Yes, I thought the same thing. But I had to know. I had to be sure that I wasn’t just imaging things. And five years ago, I knew for sure that I was right – that Scott had been right. Do you remember what I told you happened five years ago?”

William was having a hard time thinking straight. The wine had made him a bit light-headed, and now with all this talk of reincarnation, it made his mind a jumble of random thoughts and fears. But even so, after a moment he remembered. “Your son Sean died. Drowned in the tub.”

She smiled then as if she were proud of him. “That’s right. The same day that one of the mare’s was giving birth. The roan that she bore was Sean. I could see it in his eyes from the moment he first saw me. There was a recognition there that I had never seen in a horse before. I would ride him regularly as soon as he was strong enough. He did not even have to be broken in, but he accepted me eagerly, as if he had been yearning for that moment from birth. You rode him this morning yourself. I think he recognized you as family.”

William felt his stomach tighten even further. Yes, he was going to be ill. And rather violently too he expected. “Ana, that is nonsense! Madness! Sean died. He is dead! You are just imaging things!”

But if she heard him, she gave no indication. “It was an accident though, pure chance, lucky chance though. Jack had called just then. But the promise the horses made to Scott when he prayed to them to save Mom was good for my son too. Death may have taken him, but we were still together. Family should stay together you know. Losing Mom and Scott, and then you was so painful, I don’t know how I managed to survive those first few years. I was so angry at you, I wished you dead. I’m sorry for that, Will. I just always wanted you to come home so we could all be a family again. Dad did too, and so did Aloysha and Scotsman.

“I wondered a long time what might bring you home. I knew you wouldn’t come if I asked you too, even if I begged. Dad asked you several times to do so, and you still wouldn’t. So I knew I had to give you no choice. I had to make it so that you had to come home. When I realized what was needed, I told Aloysha, Scotsman and Sean, and then merely had to wait while they made things ready. When the time was right...”

“Oh my God!” William stammered, rising up from his seat, his hands trembling in horror and agony. “Mansbridge was right, wasn’t he? You pushed him. You pushed Dad down those steps?”

The creature on the other end of the table, the monster who had once been his sister only nodded and smiled gaily. “Very good, Will. Yes, I did push him. There was a colt being born then, so I knew he would still be with us. So you see, I didn’t really kill him. I just helped him move to the next life, and to reunite us all as a family.” Her smile vanished then and was replaced by a menacing scowl. “If you hadn’t been so stubborn and just come home I wouldn’t have had to do that! You ruined our family, Will! It was you! I’m just doing what is necessary to bring us back together again!”

William backed up until he was standing against the wall. Tears were filling his eyes as he shook his head. “Ana... Ana... how? How could you do that to Dad? You... you need to get help. You’ve gone insane. Stop this now.”

“It’s not insanity, Will. It is the truth. You saw Dad this morning. Remember? The colt that recognized you? You wouldn’t let him come near you though. Do you know how much you hurt Dad’s feelings when you recoiled from him? He loves you, and he wants us all to be family again.” Ana’s smile was slow to come back, but it was sure, almost serene. “And tonight we will.”

“What?” William could barely breath. He felt as if his throat were swelling shut. His mind raced back and forth, struggling vainly towards sobriety, but he could not shake that feeling of light-headedness. Nevertheless, he recalled just what was happening out in the stables at that very moment. “The twins?”

“That’s right. We’re going to be the twins. We’ll be horses, Will. And we’ll be with our family once more. All of us horses!”

“No. That’s madness. I am not killing myself, Ana. And neither are you.”

Her smile did not waver. “It’s too late, Will. We already have.”

William stared in stunned disbelief at her face. She merely continued to smile. “It will be so wonderful to be a family again at last. You’ll see.”

His stomach turned one more time then, and he wrapped his arms before him. William stared for a moment at the last few oysters still on the platter, and felt as if he’d been struck on the face. “The oysters....”

“Strychnine. The oysters mask the taste. I read that in an Agatha Christie novel I think. We’ve both had a fatal dose. In a half hour we should be newborn colts.”

He did not doubt in the least that she was telling the truth. At least about the strychnine. The strange fog that filled his mind parted in that moment, and he recalled just what gift he had been given prior to his flight. It had been meant as a lark, but now it might be the only thing that saved his life. The mention of Agatha Christie made him think about his own book.

“No,” William said with a snarl, and then bolted out the door towards the stairs. He raced up the stairs and towards his old bedroom. The book was where he’d left it on the bed, framed in the setting sun’s last rays through the window. William’s lips twitched ever so slightly into a smile. There was a section on what to do in the case of poison. It was their only chance. Emergency services would never be able to reach them in time.

He flipped through, searching, feeling more and more frantic every minute. What if they did not have the cure? What would he do then? It was not the sort of thing that one prepared for. How often did one sit down to dinner expecting their mad sister to poison them with strychnine?

There were entries for all the most common poisons, and they were thankfully lifted alphabetically. It took him perhaps twenty seconds to find the entry for strychnine and he read it as quickly and as carefully as he could. His hands were still trembling badly, and the words all swam before him in a dizzy haze.

Activated charcoal. When ingested, it absorbed the strychnine preventing it from getting into his bloodstream and causing any damage. William wasn’t quite sure what the activated part meant, but he knew where he could find some charcoal. It was certain to make him ill, but he’d rather be ill than be dead.

Standing up, he saw that Ana was in his doorway. She still had on tat serene smile. “What are you doing, Will? Just relax. We’ll be together again soon.”

“No, we’ll be dead soon if I don’t save us. Now get out of the way.”

Ana’s eyes glanced over to the book. He’d dropped it on the bed once more, title up. He saw that she was reading it just a moment too late. “No, don’t you dare!” She cried out, tears suddenly streaming form her eyes then. “Don’t you run away again!” She threw herself at him, arms outstretched.

William reached up, grabbing her hands before she could dig her nails into his face. She snarled and spat, eyes teary but livid. They fell back across the bed, and then rolled over backwards. With a solid crash, they hit the floor, the soft carpeting only slightly muffling the impact. William felt the breath knocked out of him, and he gasped.

She dug her nails into his shoulders, trying to get her hands around his neck. He looked up as she sat atop of him, and struck her across the cheek. She let out a cry of surprise and fell backwards. But she was on him again a moment later. William scooted back until he could get to his feet, but she tackled him once more, hissing in fury as she tried to wraps her fingers around his neck once more.

William shouldered one of her arms aside and pushed her away, struggling to get out of her grip. She caught at his shirt, nails tearing into the fabric and his skin beneath. He gasped, and struck her again. Ana fell back, her hair a tangled mess, giving her an even more bestial countenance. William ran for the door, and tried to draw it shut on her. She got an arm through first, and pulled it back open.

Stumbling in retreat, William’s foot caught at the edge of the upstairs carpeting, and he teetered over backwards. Ana grabbed for his throat once more but fell forwards with him into the banister. For a moment, the world spun, the ceiling falling beneath him, and then the walls, and suddenly, the first floor rushed to meet them. They had spun in the air so that Ana was beneath him when they landed. The air escaped from her lungs, and she lay there silent even as he crawled off of her.

William put his fingers to her neck and breathed a sigh of relief. She still had a pulse. If he was quick, then maybe he could save her too.

He ran to the kitchen and grabbed a mixing bowl and a hammer. He then rushed back to the living room and knelt before the hearth. The world was beginning to swim before him, and the sense of queasiness he felt before was growing with each passing moment. William wasted no time in selecting a bit of burnt wood and placing it into the bowl. He struck it with the hammer repeatedly, reducing it to powder. A mortar and pestle would work better, but this was all he had to work with.

As the chunk of charcoal grew smaller, William had to hold it in place so that he could hit it solidly. His hands were still trembling though, and he struck his fingers several times. Several times he felt a lancing pain, and he felt sure he had broken a bone or two. The world was strangely indistinct though. Colours were beginning to fade and blend into one another. His heart was quickening. He did not have much time.

After he had reduced the first bit of log to dust, he dropped the hammer and scooped it up in his good hand. He forced the foul material into his mouth and swallowed. His tongue was so thick, he felt sure he was going to choke right then. But he kept swallowing, kept focussing on that one act, that it finally all did go down. He took another handful and shoved that down as well, pushing it as far back in his mouth as he could. His body so wanted to cough it back up, but he held himself in check, eating the charcoal dust as if it were the finest meal he’d ever tasted.

Before he quite realized it, the mixing bowl was almost completely empty. He had to save some for Ana. She may have tried to kill them both, but she was still his sister. If he could save her, he would. William grabbed another hunk of charcoal from the hearth and began smashing it as best he could. The heavy thunk of the hammer was distant, and the pain in his fingers seemed remote as well. He tried to draw them back closer, but they did not want to be close then. Everything was a mess, and even the sounds of his sister stirring slightly were muffled and smeared, as if they were the dying throes of some animal hit by a car.

William struck again and again at the hunk of charcoal, reducing it to heavy motes of black dust. Everything was hazy, and he could barely think clearly. He did not know if he had even ingested enough, but it would have to do. He dropped the hammer and turned to Ana. He could get a glass of water to help wash it down so that she had no choice but to swallow. With his plan set, he stood and started to walk towards her.

Standing proved to be a mistake. As he rose upwards, all of the world turned sideways. William tried to right it, but the wave of nausea was too much. He toppled over on his side, the bowl of charcoal dust scattering across the floor. He was staring at his sister even as all the colours in the world turned to black.

There was intense pressure from all sides. William felt weak in all his limbs. He could not truly move. But something was moving him.

He felt it again, a deep throbbing pressure that came at him, forcing him into a tight space, one that squeezed at him, massaging him and filling him with a deep warmth. His mind was unable to focus clearly in that dark space, but there seemed to be some faint light before him. It was indistinct, smeared with grey.

The pressure continued, pushing him forward towards that light. William could not help but feel somewhat sad then. When one dies one heads towards a great light, it was said. The light before him grew brighter, and a sudden stab of cold reached his face.

All things grew tighter then, and a fear came over him that he could not explain. He struggled, and felt something foul filling his mouth. A moment later, the light went out.

“Mr. Stanchinsky’s coming around,” was the first thing he remembered hearing.

William woke to find himself lying on the couch. There were several men in emergency uniforms standing over him. He recognised the insignia on their uniforms. They were poison control. He blinked several times. The light hurt, but at least, it wasn’t swimming around anymore. “What happened?”

“You made it,” one of the men, a youthful man with a short beard said. “Damn lucky too. Looks like you’ve been eating some charcoal. Saved your life. Whatever gave you the idea to do that?”

“Book. Upstairs.” William pointed, laying his head back down. He may be alive, but he felt sick as a dog. “Told me what I need to do.” He opened his eyes again and looked at the floor by the stairs. Ana was gone. “How long have I been out?”

“Several hours now,” the young man said. His partner was writing something down on a clipboard. “You are still pretty sick. We gave you a few medicines of our own while you were out.”

William looked away from him and saw Gareth standing only a few feet away. The man’s expression was dazed, but he smiled slightly when he met William’s gaze. “I found you and Ana on the floor here and called 911. Ana...”

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” William asked, knowing it was true before he even asked. He hadn’t been able to save her. He’d lost Scott because he hadn’t tried. And now he’d lost Ana because he hadn’t tried soon enough.

Gareth nodded sadly. “Already was by the time I found you both. You were breathing pretty bad, but you were still breathing.”

“We’ve already taken Mrs. Stanchinsky’s body to the morgue,” the man replied. “We will need you to come with us to the hospital tonight, just in case the poison isn’t completely out of your system.”

William nodded at that. He did not want to spend another night here in this house. It held no more happy memories for him, he knew that now.

Gareth helped im to his feet. He was unsteady, and still a bit nauseous. The taste in his mouth was atrocious, and nearly every part of him felt sore. “Thank you,” he said quietly, even as the two EMTs led them out of the house.

The night air was cool, and struck him hard. A chill raced down his spine as the scent of horses filled his nose once more. He almost gagged on it. William reached out with his hand to grasp the railing. It was only then that he noticed the heavy bandages and splints that had been placed on his fingers. A grimace crossed his lips at that, but he said nothing.

There was an ambulance in the driveway. One of te EMTs rushed ahead to get it started. As the lights came on, William looked up and was surprised to see several horses gathered at the side of the fence.

And he recognized them. His stomach turned anew as he saw the old mare Aloysha, and the old sable Scotsman staring at him. There was a deep sadness in their eyes, one so profound that he felt as if slapped in rebuke. Beside them was Sean, whose own expression was more confused and questioning. And next to them was that young colt he’d seen earlier that morning. Its ears were lifted high, eyes bright, but sad too.

William turned away then and looked at Gareth instead. The ranch man’s lips were grim, and there was a shadow over his eyes. “Gareth. Were the twins born all right?”

Gareth lowered his eyes a moment and shrugged his shoulders. “The girl came out fine, but the boy...”


The words were agonized. “He choked to death before he came free.”

William sagged against the ranch hand and let out a long melancholy sob.

End of A Long-Forgotten Madness!

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