Letter from Castile Madigan
This letter is my last resort. It is an act of desperation. My hope that it will reach you is tenuous. My hope that you will understand it, even more so.
Many people are bonded by their commonalities, by little truths they share with each other, by interests and ideals. Hazel and I were bonded by our secrets. By our mutual terror in the harm our secrets could do, were they laid bare to our families and loved ones. Our deviances. Our unnaturalness.
Hazel fell in love with my sister, Isabelle, who shared with her things no one outside our family was ever meant to see. I think it is ironic that, given her transgression, my sister was the only one of all of us to escape this strange and groaning land.
I do not know how she escaped. I only know it is far too late for me to do the same.
When I was a child, I wanted to leave my mark. Now I feel I have left it too well. Scored it too deeply into the bones of history.
I don’t know how to describe what I’m seeing.
I will leave this letter with her, with what she has become. I want you to know it was my fault, not Alethe’s. I could not let her go. I think Hazel came closer than anyone besides my sister to escaping this place, even though she had to die to do it. And me, sentimental fool that I am, I could not bear to let her go.
I tried to return her to life. It is an ability I have, in limitation, though it works better with animals than it ever has with humans. When I was eight years old, my dear little cat choked to death on a chicken bone I gave her. I brought her back. She did not live a long life after that, but oh, she was loved. She was loved in a way only those who are lost ever could be.
Hazel did not return to life. I think there must be consent, a willingness on the part of the dead, in order for life to fill them again. And Hazel wanted no part of me anymore. I trapped her. In my own need, my own desperation, I trapped her, a drowning man dragging his rescuer into the deep with him.
It was that selfishness, the spark of a shared secret. It was what let the woods in.
And Hazel, my oldest and only friend, unfurled.
There is a tree in the manor basement. A white tree.
Oh, god, I can see her.
I watched her lengthening. Her bones ruptured through her skin, splitting, elongating, her fingers and toes, her shins, her arms. I watched each fingertip flower and extend. Her ribs opened like jaws, and from within, the fibers of her lungs twisted between her vertebrae like delicate, choking vines. The plates of her skull undid themselves, opening, blooming, a bloody rose. The column of her spine became the knotted trunk.
I thought she was screaming, but then I realized it was Alethe.
I could not stop her as she swung the axe at the thing that her sister had become, could not offer an explanation when every piece she hacked away only grew back faster, snatching the axe from her hands, winding it up into the trunk and trapping it, and all the while that ceaseless cracking of bone continued, intensified as Hazel grew.
Weeping, Alethe turned back to me, and I saw the horror of understanding cross her face.
Then the woods punished her.
She felt every blow from the axe. It was the work of her own hands that cleaved the flesh from her bones, that struck notches into her back and sides, that opened the gashes on her neck and chest. I could only watch. And she kept her eyes on me the whole time.
When the bones of her sister were slick with her blood, the woods claimed her, too.
Does it help to know their fate? Does it answer anything at all?
She’s here. Her bones. They’re at the base of the tree.
Of fucking course it doesn’t help. Knowing what happened doesn’t explain how, or what did it, or why it’s happening to me. I came here for answers, for ghosts, for something, and all that’s here are dusty bones and crumpled letters to no one. I’m trapped. I’m alone. And I’m sick of digging through this fucking detritus left behind by some rich old family that everyone forgot and no one cares to remember.
I hope this letter offers something, anything. Maybe if you don’t understand it now, you will in time. This danger exists in your time, as it did in ours.
You are not alone, Benjamin Farrow.