The Haunting of Romney Wood, Conclusion
“What?” Walt asked.
“Far away, bitch.”
“Show me to a phone.”
She pointed at his shirt pocket and he patted his cell phone. “Show me to an electrical outlet.”
She cocked her head, then shied away when he brought the phone out and waved it in the air. “Dead! Like you.”
The Witch set her jaw, glaring at him.
“So Amanda says that you won’t let me free you.”
“Before you knew about that, you wanted to be free. It’s part of the legend.”
“Always…knew. Didn’t…believe. Didn’t…want to.”
“Okay. Do you still think it matters? Your curse is ancient history.”
The Witch lunged forward, grabbing Walt’s collar with clawed hands and lifting him in the air.
In his head he felt her pain. He shut his eyes against images screaming through his brain. The young woman running desperately through the woods, the mob of men from the town following her. Catching up with her, forcing her down, tying her hands. Punches, kicks. And there’s Atherton, riding in on a horse. Walking towards her. The gang rape coming in brutal flashes, the whispered curse, the final white-hot moment of a life of agony and, then… The woods.
She let him fall to the ground and he gazed up at her, crying, shivering.
“I can’t do anything unless you let me leave.”
“Others…come. Others can.”
Walt nodded, and the Witch moved backwards into the trees and the gathering shadows. Walt spent another night alone, returning to his old campsite in the ruins of Black Hill. He sat alone by the fire, watching the space where Lon and Laurie had been just a few nights before.
Yes, others would come. Lots of people knew about the project. Friends, loved ones, colleagues. They’d find the car, they’d retrace the steps, they’d march through these woods and these ruins. Perhaps they’d find Lon and Laurie’s remains. And what would Walt do? Would he give up the last Atherton? What did he care? The fate of the Atherton family was nothing to him.
But the Witch… The Witch had bested him at his own game. She had killed his friends. She didn’t deserve mercy. She didn’t deserve her freedom. What happened to her, so long ago, was a crime. What she had done since simply compounded that first evil. Made this place a curse for all who came here. The Witch was suffering, and Walt smiled into the fire as he realized that. When the search parties came, he would fade into the hills. Vanish into the folds of the mountain and wait them out. What could the Witch do? Continue her slaughter but, eventually, she would fade into the woods. Become nothing but a malevolent presence. Powerless, except in the mind of the beholder. Already she was distant from her old self. Losing the ability to interact. That was clear. Someday – sooner rather than later – the Witch would be nothing but a tortured soul locked in the trees, the rocks, the long-buried ruins as her story is lost in time.
Walt started laughing. It was something that seemed to bubble up inside of him against his control. A part of him simply came loose and he laughed and laughed and, gasping, he turned towards the woods and screamed the curse. The one he’d heard when the Witch sent her memories into his mind. The branches rustled and, as he fell to all fours and crawled around the campsite giggling, the Witch – again in the body of an old woman – watched from the overgrown gravel road that linked her house to the town. She leaned on her cane beside the old town hall and watched the end of the young man who had come to tell her story. Others would come. And, one day, Atherton would come.
“And if that doesn’t happen?” Amanda asked from behind the Witch, sitting on the trunk of a fallen dogwood.
The Witch half turned, watching her cautiously. “He’ll come….for you.”
The Witch pointed her cane at Walt, who now sat soberly, scratching in his journal. “The boat. You talked.”
Amanda’s ghost stood, an ethereal light shining around her as she approached the Witch, then looked at Walt. The Witch mumbled. “Atherton…seeks remains.”
The Witch morphed into her younger version. The darkly perfect interpretation of the woman she used to be. She grinned at Amanda.
“Damn you.” Amanda muttered.
Walt jerked up as the Witch’s voice whispered into his ear, “Amanda…at foot of hill…beneath stone.”
Walt starting writing in his journal again, his hand shaking, his script nearly illegible.
Her remains are beneath the line of Oak trees that mark the boundary to the “Witch’s” house. They’ve been placed beneath a cairn, now overgrown. I’m not sure who created this grave, for there are no markings, but I have become convinced that this is the final resting place of Amanda Atherton.
* * *
It took one week from when Walt, Lon, and Laurie were reported missing before anyone showed up. The sheriff led his men in four canoes, and the murder house was their first step. There, they found evidence of recent activity.
Teams on horseback explored the surrounding woods for three days. Dogs proved useless, howling at the ruins and cowering on the small, rocky beach near the canoes.
In the center of the town was a campsite. One tent, one sleeping bag, and personal effects scattered about. Walt’s journal, and all other items, were sent back across the creek and to the sheriff’s office. In the end, that’s all they found. More questions than answers. Another mysterious chapter in the haunting of Romney Wood.