Ravens sit in the leafless, solitary tree as Max approaches the abandoned house. The collapsed side is nothing more than rotted wood and crumbled stone. Pieces of rusty appliances are scattered about the wreckage, which is swarming with insects. Shards of glass are around the edge of the area, several of the pieces stabbed into the earth like daggers. A trio of mice scurry out from under the wood and race to the nearest bush before a hungry raven can catch them. Only two make it to safety while the third is snatched off the ground by a bird that is faster than Max’s eyes can follow. The standing part of the house is protected on the damaged side by a tarp that remains still even when the wind blows. Cracked paint and rotted shingles show the building’s age and lack of maintenance. Webs cover the windows that are barely held in place by frames that are soft enough to push a finger into. Two bricks can be seen on the roof, the final parts of a chimney that is now collapsed and covered by dirt.
To Max’s amazement, the front door does not fall off its rusty hinges and he simply steps through the entrance. An electric buzz runs throughout his body, reminding him of the time he got a mild shock from changing a light bulb. Creaking can be heard from every room, but there are thuds upstairs that make him think animals are upstairs. The few furnishings left behind reek of mildew and urine, which Max assumes are from cats like the dead one he sees in a nearby fireplace. Pictures line the walls, but all of them are empty and broken, the glass shattered in identical patterns. Grabbing his phone, he sends a quick text to Gemma along with a photo of everything he sees.
“I’d call, but I don’t want to lose power again,” Max mutters while he jams a piece of wood under the door. He tests the stairs that were cut in half by the collapse, the wood giving an inch when he puts his full weight on it. “Even in daylight this place is creepy. Again, I wish I was in your shoes, Cook, because a fancy hotel beats this every day. Even if you’re the guest of a psychopath.”
Seeing nothing of interest downstairs, Max carefully climbs to the top floor. The stairs creak and crack beneath his feet, threatening to fall away. He glances over the edge to see that he would plunge into a collection of jagged wood, so he walks as carefully as possible. By the time he reaches stable ground, the detective is sweating and gasping for breath. Pushing the first door open, he finds a bathroom with a sunken floor that is flooded with rain water. Croaking frogs jump around the foul-smelling pools, their tadpoles giving the illusion of shifting darkness beneath the surface. Taking a picture and moving on, Max searches a closet full of decaying towels and old cleaning supplies. The remains of a photo album is in the back, but the only thing that has survived intact is a picture of Dawn as a newborn.
“One more door,” Max whispers, noticing that there is light coming from inside. He gently opens the door and stands in awe within the doorway. “What the hell?”
The spotless room of a small child is meticulously laid out, complete with colorful curtains that billow regardless of the lack of a breeze. Crayon drawings cover the walls, which are wood panels that gleam with fresh polish and are found nowhere else in the house. Taking pictures as he goes, Max finds clean clothes in the drawers and fresh school supplies in the desk. A hat rack in the corner shows markings similar to those one would see on a wall when measuring the height of a growing child. Tiny glass figurines of unicorns and ravens are along the two windowsills, the animals put into pairs that look outside.
Looking under the perfectly made bed, Max finds several boxes that are filled with toys that are mostly naked dolls. When he takes a picture, the flash reveals a hole in the floor that is big enough for him to hook the plank with his finger. He pulls out a long, cardboard box that is covered in birthday wrapping paper and adorned with a black bow. Drawing a pocketknife, the detective carefully opens the old present and pulls out a full-sized wedding dress and tuxedo. The clothes are still in pristine condition, so he lays them on the bed. Turning them over, he finds one has a post-it with Dawn’s name on it and the other has a similar note for Corvus. Squinting at the faded papers, he can barely make out that was once something else written on them. Reaching into the plastic coverings, Max pulls them out and finds a pencil to help reveal the lost information.
“For the love of god!” he shouts when his phone goes off. Seeing that it is Gemma, he answers and puts the device on speakerphone. “Hope you’re enjoying all these pictures. I talked to Kate Addison who considers her daughter a monster. Not evil human, but a genuine creature of darkness. Seems she tried to abort the baby three times and failed. I’ve no idea what to make of any of her ramblings since you’d think she was talking about ghosts or whatever this would count as. Oh, and the husband is an imaginary friend named Corvus. His name is on a bunch of the drawings and this tuxedo I found. Trying to find out what the faded scribbles are. Any news on your end?”
“I’m just tired, old man,” Gemma replies with a yawn. He can hear her putting ice into an empty glass and hopes she is not drinking before lunch. “I’ve no idea how to explain what happened last night, but maybe her mother is right. What if we’re doing with something that isn’t human?”
“Then we catch her and let a jury figure out the next step,” Max replies in a half-hearted attempt at humor. He scowls at what he sees on the papers, unsure of their meaning due to the messy handwriting. “The note for Dawn has a ‘B’ followed by one nine eight zero. The one for Corvus has a ‘B’ followed by one nine eight one. These mean anything to you? I’ll send you a picture in case the way they’re written is important.”
“I’ll look them over at breakfast.”
“Probably going to bring these clothes to the precinct.”
The phone is cut off by static that turns into a screeching wail that rattles the windows and door. When the device sputters and jumps to the floor, Max leaves it behind and goes to gather the clothes into his arms. To his surprise, the empty sleeves whip at him and create burning welts with their buttons. Backing away, he is knocked into the wall when one of the windows explodes outwards by a powerful gust of wind. The ravens can be heard cawing as they circle the building and wait for the chaos to end. Another gale comes out of the hallway and whips around the room to remove all of the pictures from the walls. Churning and howling, the pages become a condensed twister that the detective can barely see his way through.
“This is-”, Max starts to say before his throat is slit by one of the flying papers. Holding his hand to the gushing wound, he collapses near his phone that has stopped screeching. Unable to respond to Gemma’s shouting beyond wet gurgles, he opens a photo of his family and stares at it until his eyes close.