Esther

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Excerpt from High Ground, copyright 2017 by Richard Authier Lee

First a thin whistling, then angry buzzing, then waves came like the tide, washing over black iron fence and surging through parlor walls. Searing, unseen swells washed across marble floors, poured down stairs and seeped everywhere but the pantry and kitchen. Esther clutched her diary to her breast in a fetal curl on the kitchen floor as night sounds, sharp as pins, hissed through the walls and rippled down her spine.  She gripped her pen and scratched jagged, trembling words onto the page.

Diary, can a place born of evil itself become evil? I have done nothing more to deserve this than to be born here. The others died with their lives in order, their souls at peace. I have no distinction from them, except that I am the last.

Weeks ago, her cats had left and never returned. Insects swarmed the grounds at sundown, but the nighthawks were gone. Only leathery wings came to feed at dusk. The house creaked and moved around her, timbers shuddering against brittle, wintry night. Huddled on the kitchen floor, she could see the dark outlines of the counters and iron stove above her and, higher up, pin pricks of faint stars that rippled through window glass. She drew a ragged breath and eased her grip on the pot cover held over her head until she heard something move across the floor above her.

In the dim light, she shuffled to the foyer and staircase at the carriage entrance, steadied herself on the banister and tried to fathom the silence. Someone, or something, drew itself up and stood in the shadows of the balcony above, looking down the curved staircase.

“Father?”

There was no answer, only skeletal tree branches tapping against high windows. Something fluttered and fell at her feet. She retreated, slipped, and fell. More fluttering and more impacts on the floor around her. Leather slapped at her and she felt a sharp blow to the top of her head that sent consciousness swirling away to a cold, still blackness.

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