Ch 1 –
'She came to me convinced that her protégé Sister Mary Eunice was possessed by the devil.' Mother Claudia had declared. The sound of the old nun's voice rang clear as a bell in Lana Winters' mind as she typed away in the dark, cigarette smoke whirling around her head and quickly pluming to the ceiling like smoke rising from the ashes of something dead and forgotten.
Seven-year-old Johnny Winters rubbed his eyes as he walked down the dark hall toward the sound of his mother's typewriter. Intense though it was, it comforted him to the core. He'd had a bad dream, the kind where the feeling of dread haunted you into your consciousness in a way that was less like fear and more like illness. With his teddy bear in hand he crept toward his mother, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.
The shy little boy cowered, terrified by every shadow and sound that went bump in the night. He paused and started walking again, not noticing a ghostlike hand that reached out to grab his ankle but missed, squeezing tight like a fist in anger as he passed.
"Mommy?" He whispered, afraid he'd find something other than her when he reached her office.
Suddenly, the typewriter dinged loudly, permeating the pattern of the keys doing their diligent work and Johnny started to scream.
'Ding!' Jude reached out to stop the kitchen timer and hurried out the door, her little girl at her heels.
Life seemed to settle down into something much more normal than it had ever been after Mary Eunice moved out. But, that's not to say they didn't all miss her or even feel a little empty. It was a quiet fall afternoon. Alex and Emma were in school, and four-year-old Lyla followed her mother around as she went back and forth between the barn and the house.
"Jude." Timothy began when she reached the barn again. "How about going to town a little early? There are some things I need and I'm sure the children would be appreciative if we did that before collecting them from school."
Jude walked into Timothy's embrace and he placed his hands on her hips, pulling her close as she replied. But Lyla paid no mind to this, and instead, got between her parents and the cow her father had just finished milking and feeding.
"Moo." She said quietly reaching up and attempting to touch the cow's nose.
The cow grunted a little in acknowledgement of Lyla and the little girl turned back to her parents, who were at this time, in the midst of a deep kiss. Lyla tilted her head and watched as her father tightened his arms around her mother's waist. Her mother seemed to moan within his grasp, running her hands up his chest.
"Mommy?" She asked as her parents continued to kiss. "Daddy?" Within a few moments Timothy and Jude broke their kiss and turned to their little girl without leaving each other's embrace.
"Yes sweetheart." He asked, almost laughing.
"Why are you kissing my mommy like that?"
"Well." He smiled at Jude, placing his nose against hers. "It's because we are in love."
"Yes my Lyla we are very much in love." Jude giggled, kissing Timothy again softly.
"And we love ya very much too!" Lyla giggled like mad when her Father picked her up and he began to blow kisses on her cheeks. Jude laughed and jointed her husband in kissing their youngest daughter.
Timothy put Lyla on his shoulders and the three made their way back to the house. He smiled as his little girl rested her chin on top of his head. It started to rain when they went inside and at that same time the phone began to ring.
"I'll get it!" Jude rushed to the phone, answering it on the third or fourth ring. "Hello… Oh hello, Mary Eunice, how are ya?" Jude smiled, she'd missed the younger former nun. "Ya wanna talk ta Alex? Well he's still in school I…oh, tomorrow….yes I know it's not yar Saturday.."
Timothy looked up from Lyla when Jude said this. It'd been strange, sharing custody of the boy they'd been raising under one roof, but everyone was growing used to the concept and Timothy and Mary were very fluid about where Alex went and when.
"Yes I don't think it'd be a problem if he came over far a little while. Ya have something important ta tell him huh?" Jude bit her lip and giggled in excitement, crossing her arms. "I think I know what ya have ta tell him, am I right?" She asked. "Oooh this is wonderful, congratulations, I'm so excited! No, no I won't tell him. All right. I'll see ya tomorrow Mary Eunice. Love ya too honey."
"W-what was that?" Timothy raised an eyebrow.
"Mary Eunice. She wants to see Alex tomorrow."
"What's her news?"
Jude laughed, kissing her husband's cheek. She knew but had promised to keep it a secret.
"I'll let yar son tell ya tomorrow night."
On Saturday morning, Alex made his way to his mother and Kit's stretch of land on his own. Jude lay in the hammock reading Lyla a story and Emma followed their father into the vegetable garden. Along the way he passed Dr. Arden who waved happily from his place tending to his own garden … plants that of course he'd created rather than grown. Alex's apprehension spiked as he neared his mother's house. There he saw his stepfather and siblings in the distance, too far away for him to call out to them, not that he wanted to. He'd been wondering what it was his mother wanted to tell him, and when he saw that the rest of the family was outside, he knew in an instant that it was a delicate subject.
"Mommy?" He asked, finding the large kitchen empty when he came in the house. "Mommy where are you?"
"Oh! Oh hi Alex." She said, her voice breathless as she came out from the other room and hugged her son.
"Mom what's wrong?" He asked, sensing something was off.
Mary Eunice seemed frazzled, nervous, agitated even.
"Mom?" He questioned.
She smiled, cradling his cheek in hand. Mary giggled. "Oh my sweet baby, nothing's wrong, nothing at all. Here, sit with me. I have some news for you."
"Oh?" He raised his eyebrow.
"Yeah. Honey…" Mary paused, taking his hands in her own.
She didn't quite know how to say this to Alex. He was her first and precious
baby; the baby who'd saved her and with whom she'd been through so much. She felt like breaking this news would be difficult somehow, like it would do something to the bond they had and she couldn't stand that. Mary swallowed hard, her anxiety almost overcoming her. Suddenly, she realized Alex would be the last in the family to know. Surly, Jude would've told Timothy and the girls by now, and that just wouldn't do.
Mary took a deep breath. "Mommy's going to have another baby."
"Y-are you alright with that?"
Alex said nothing but nodded, hugging his mother. She gave a relieved smile and hugged her son, kissing the dome of his head.
"Now you know, it doesn't mean that I'll love you any less or that…"
Alex laughed, looking up at her. "Mommy I know that."
"You'll always be my best wonderful boy." She whispered, pressing her nose against his. "Now how about a sandwich before you go back to your dad's, I'm starved."
Alex sat at the table as his mom started to make them lunch. He squinted, eyeing a pile of drawings that lay strewn across the tabletop, which he knew belonged to his stepbrother. He reached out to grab the one on top, horrified by the depiction: a grizzly monster with seven heads and ten horns per head, a human in hand, the other in it's blood filled mouth. Alex jumped, dropping the drawing.
"Mommy, did Thomas make this?"
"Oh honey don't look at that. He said it's something that came to him in his dream."
"Kit! This is a pleasant surprise, what brings you by?" Timothy smiled, taking two beers out of the fridge as Kit followed him into the kitchen.
Kit laughed almost shyly, putting his head down as he sat at one of the barstools. He was embarrassed about what brought him round, but knew Timothy was a safe place to turn. He paused a moment, listening to the joyful laughs of Jude and the girls as they played outside, wondering if he too could have such a happy family life… now that Mary Eunice was pregnant.
"Well ya… ya used to be a priest and I was, I was wonderin'…"
Timothy laughed. "Well yes this is true. Although I'm no longer in the business of confession."
"No, no Tim, not confession… council."
Timothy nodded twice very slowly, hoping he understood the younger man. "Well yes… yes I'm always available for that."
"See I was just… do ya know what happened befare, to Julia's mother, to Grace?"
"I, I'd heard but don't know…"
"That ya believed it?"
"Yes." Timothy gulped, not wanting to offend Kit.
"It's true, everything I said to Jude when I was admitted ta Briarcliff. It wasn't little green men. It was… Ya see… I'm afraid. Afraid that they'll take Mary Eunice, like they did with … with Alma." He gulped, looking up. "And Grace."
Timothy was surprised, Kit's question sent him back into full blown priest mode, only then there was usually an answer for everything and now he had no clue what to say. He couldn't say have faith to a man who had none. And moreover, he had no idea what to say to a concept that was so otherworldly.
"What if, what if it's me?" He confided, his eyes flashing. "What if I hurt the women I loved, huh?"
"Kit." Timothy reassured calmly. He knew that whatever the case was, Kit had not been to blame. "I know this is frightening, but I also know you're a good, loving man. One who knows his truth as surely as he's seen it with his own two eyes, and lived it. And that whatever happens, Jude and I will be here for you."
"What did Kit want?" Jude asked kindly, wiping her hands on a dishtowel as she started dinner.
Timothy said nothing, and with the girls still playing happily outside, took the opportunity to creep up behind his wife and take her in his arms. Holding her close, he started to kiss her neck.
She giggled. "Timothy, that still doesn't tell me why he was here."
Timothy sighed. "Jude. What was it that Kit said to you when he was admitted to Briarcliff?"
"Ta Briarcliff, Timothy that was almost eight years ago!"
"Well what did he say?"
"I guess… he said he saw monsters, Timothy. Aliens."
"When his wife conceived their daughter."
"And you believed him?"
Surprised, Jude turned around in his embrace, placing her hands on the counter behind her. "No." She said seriously.
He let her go and she went back to the task of cutting vegetables for their dinner, the onion making her sniffle. She was making coq au vin that night, her husband's favorite dish which always made her think of Briarcliff. Jude paused mid cut, her mind drifting backward at the recollection of a bright light.
"But Timothy, there was one thing… it was on the movie night."
"You'd been drinking."
"I saw something! As sure as the devil in that boy possessed Mary Eunice."
Timothy's head snapped up the hair on his head and all over his body standing on end. He'd learned the hard way about dismissing his wife's judgment, and listened carefully. Mary Eunice was a sensitive soul, a receptive soul, something Timothy knew all too well.
"Jude…. What he's right, what if she is in trouble?"
"Well Alex, how was yar afternoon with yar mother?" Jude asked, beginning to serve the salad.
Several hours later, the Howards sat down to dinner. The girls talked a mile a minute but Alex sat quietly, his devoted stepmother noting he seemed rattled.
"Good." He said quietly.
Timothy poured himself some wine as Jude covered her glass, keeping him from giving her any (as he always tried to do). He was about to question his son, also noting his forlorn state, but the phone rang as soon as he started to speak.
"Honey could you?" Jude asked.
Timothy stepped into the other room, the sound of his little girls chatting happily, amplified in the background.
"Hello Timothy." Came a heavily British accented voice.
Robert was not actually his Uncle, but a former business partner of his father's and a close friend of the family. Timothy knew by the sound of his voice that his news was not good. He gulped, afraid something had happened to his mother.
"The board's decided it's time to make a decision on your American children, and whether or not they inherit."
Heavy breathing and the sound of snapping twigs punctuated the thick black darkness of the night. It hung low over the woods almost like a thick black fog, making it impossible to see even a few inches beyond one's gaze. Suddenly, a hand wrapped tightly around the man's ankle, an obviously otherworldly force yanking him back and onto his back. He moaned, blinking incessantly, the pain radiating throughout his thick, cracked skull.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk." A sweet voice came. "We'll just have to heal that little boo-boo won't we?"
The man moaned, not giving the young woman who straddled him an answer.
"WON'T WE?!" She screamed.
"Y-y-yes. Yes Sister."
Mary Eunice looked up, the moon rising, illuminating her sinister smile as a beast emerged from the woods, watching in approval, it's body sprouting a seventh horned head.
"Ahhhhh!" Mary Eunice sat up straight, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"What, what is it, ya okay?" Kit asked in a panic.
"I don't know!" She sobbed as he took her in his arms.
"It's alright. It's okay just.. . pregnancy, sometimes. Nightmares." Kit said quickly, looking around the room.
Mary wasn't sure. She didn't think that was a nightmare.
Kit didn't realize that it was fruitless to look up at the sky in search for the danger he felt coming for his wife. For it was already there, right with them and there was nothing he could do about it.
"I'm so scared." She whispered as he held her tight.
"It's okay, it's alright." He reassured as a ghostlike hand, made of curls of long, skinny, smoke-like fingers crawled out from under the bed and crawled up the side like a snake.
The couple settled back into sleep, clinging to each other as the wisps of smoke and spirit danced across Mary's nose.