Excerpt: Bloodstained Heart
The night was quiet and yet Seamus McCallum couldn’t sleep. His mind was troubled, a subtle ache settling like fog around his heart. For a while he merely lay there listening to the soft snoring of his dog curled up beside him, hoping it might be enough to carry him away into slumber. No such luck. When the clock struck midnight, Seamus rolled out of bed and crept out of the room.
Like a wraith he haunted the halls. He wandered down the grand staircase, through the vast kitchen and out the backdoor into the garden. Seamus bathed in the golden moonlight, the night’s gentle breeze still clinging to the coolness of the spring days. Stars twinkled in an endless ocean of darkness and the castle loomed at his back, a silent monster in the night.
The ache enveloping his heart grew worse as he admired its beauty. It rose from rolling green hills like a memory of eras gone by, a glimpse at places that used to be and never could be again. Home. Seamus felt the familiar pinprick of unshed tears. He reached out, too far away to touch its stone façade, yet feeling the smoothness worn there by weather and time.
It used to be such a grand structure with towers jutting toward the sky and intricate beautiful stained glass windows. Now it was faded, green tendrils of ivy creeping across the surface, and a few of the windows were boarded up either because someone had taken it upon themselves to remove the glass and they’d simply been shattered. Inside the carpets used to be plush, not threadbare, and the walls had been decorated with the finest paintings, all long gone. The castle had become little more than a ghost of its former self.
There were reasons why he haunted the halls the way he did. He was the reason the townsfolk in the valley below readily believed the place to be filled with ghosts and ill will. It kept them away; which used to keep Seamus happy. But one could only lay down with loneliness so many times before waking up broken inside.
He turned away, wandering into the jungle that used to be well tended flowering bushes and ornamental trees. If he closed his eyes Seamus could still hear strains of classical music, the chatter and laughter of merry party-goers, the sounds of life that used to fill the place and keep the darkness at bay.
The shore of the vast pond came into view, the stars twinkling in its reflection and generating a second sky, one close enough to make him wish he could actually touch the stars. Seamus peered into the depths of the still waters, the air around him scented faintly of wet earth. He chose to ignore his mirror image not wanting to feel his heart break for the hundredth time. just like his home he was no longer the dashing fellow he used to be, time having taken its toll on him as well.
And in such a cruel way.
Seamus picked up a stone and tossed it, with a whispered splash it sank below the surface. the grass rustled at his back and he turned to watch as his dog, a giant mastiff of a mutt, came plodding into view. The dog sat at his side with a little whimper.
“You are the only friend I have, Atlas,” he addressed the pooch, giving Atlas a generous scratch behind the ears. “Just you and me, old boy.”
Seamus hoped they still had plenty of years together because he wasn’t likely to be going anywhere any time soon. He lucked into Atlas, stumbling upon the discarded pup in the woods, surrounding the castle. It was a stroke of luck the poor thing hadn’t been devoured by wolves and bears known to lurk under cover of the trees. So Seamus brought him back to the castle, and here they were four years down the road, the best four years in Seamus’s eyes. It got mighty lonely being the only resident of the spooky castle on the hill.
“This place used to be something,” he told Atlas, sinking down on a boulder half buried in the ground. He tended to recount the glory days to Atlas on a regular basis, the dog proving to be the best listener around. Sitting there now Seamus entertained ghostly images of the past, the way the trees along the pond would be dressed in sparkling lights, and people danced in the garden, the air filled with the heavenly perfume of blooming flowers. Oh, it was always such a sight to see and how he missed it so.
Especially the dancing.
“Time goes on and on…”
They sat in silence for what may have been little more than a handful of minutes or easily an hour when Atlas shifted position, ears picked as something caught his attention. He let out a low growl followed by a subtle woof. Seamus knew the signs, someone or something was poking around nearby.
“Shall we give them a fright, teach them to stay away and not trespass on our land?”
Another cautionary bark, then Atlas climbed to his paws.
“Okie dokie, let’s go spooking.”
Seamus let Atlas lead the way, following the dog along a winding path of trampled down grass. After about the fourth turn he knew exactly where on the estate Atlas was leading him and Seamus was intrigued. After all, it was absolutely the last place he expected anyone to venture. Unless, of course, the neighborhood kids decided it would be a perfect place to party. Just the thought of such a disrespectful turn of events made him clench his jaw, hands curling into fists.
“If we’re going where I think we are then I shall wind up being extremely unhappy,” he said to Atlas.
The massive dog never broke stride.