Daimôn, part 2 of 3
* * *
Dove left the party and walked into town - a distance of several miles - in her little heels and exposed shins. Her skirt swished around her knees and she wrapped her hands around her arms to keep warm under her thin party coat. She reached Dagmar's apartment - a room above the grocery store - and went up the narrow staircase in the back, given directions by the grocer.
"- Is he in?"
"I think so, ma'am."
She found the second door to the left. She rapped lightly on the wood, and then knocked louder, but there was no response.
"Dagmar? - Dagmar? It's me!"
She looked down at the little knob, which was glass and loose. Then the thought rippled through her mind. She reached down, turned the knob slowly - and immediately let go as if it were a hot coal.
In a flash, she was down the stairs.
"Oh, Dagmar! You scared me! Nearly toppled you there. I was just looking for you. ...How's the move?"
"Oh, only had a few things. Hairbrush."
"Well - are you headed back now?"
"Where's your stuff?"
"In the trunk of the car. I was coming to pick you up later..."
"I'm ready now."
"Alright. Not good?"
"What did I tell you?" he laughed.
She climbed in next to him. He slid behind the wheel.
"Oh, wait; I have to grab something else," he said, and slid back out. She turned around and watched him, through the window, take the stairs two at a time. Her eyes happened to fall on the trunk of the car. She drummed her fingers on the edge of her seat and looked at it.
Then he came back out.
"Alright! Let's get out of here. Back to the farm."
"The haunted farm," she said. "We have to look through the barn, remember."
"Yeah," he said. "You're right."
* * *
He ran his hand along the wooden walls of the structure, and paced around the outside, looking for signs of disruption in the earth. Dove stayed in the stall, kicking around at the ground.
"We're not going to find anything," said Dagmar.
"You never know. Look harder."
"I don't know. Scratches. Feathers. A hole in the ground. Droppings. Fur. Claw marks."
She was toeing around in the straw, and suddenly her foot kicked against something. It was hard and solid, and it wouldn't move.
Using her toe, she cleared the shavings to reveal a small iron knob, like a handle in the ground. It was nailed to a trap door, right in the middle of the horse's stall.
Her shouting brought him running.
"- I've never seen this before. I've lived here my whole life and have never seen this before."
He knelt down and brushed the rest of the shavings away with his hand, scraping out the cracks of the door. He lifted it, and it yielded easily, creaking open, and revealing only darkness below.
"I see a ladder," whispered Dove. "It's leaning against the opening."
"We should go down there," he said.
"Do you have...I mean, do you have something on you?"
"I always carry my knife. We'll be fine. Can you grab that lantern?"
They lit it, and Dagmar descended first.
"I'm coming down, too," she said.
"Careful; I'll hold the ladder," he whispered.
She turned around and lowered herself gingerly, fishing for the first rung with her toe. She found it, and stepped more firmly down. Knowing he was there helped. And she wasn't about to leave him alone in the dark.
She handed him the lantern, which he immediately shone into all four corners, assuring themselves that they were utterly alone. There was no place for an animal to hide, either: there were just four bare walls, and one shelf. It was damp and dank, and the ground was dirt, but hard-packed.
"It smells awful in here. Probably used for storage," said Dove, involuntarily shivering. "Yeah, look - there are empty canning jars on the shelves."
"I don't see anything beside those," said Dagmar.
"Wait, can I see that lantern for a second?" She took it and looked closely at the shelf. Then she swiped her finger on it. "Dagmar, this shelf's been dusted!"
"Yeah - it's been dusted."
"What do you mean? What does it matter?"
"I mean...wouldn't you expect there to be a thick layer of dust on here? If this hasn't been used in twenty or thirty years? But there's not. Yes, see, there's even dust on the side of the shelf. But not on the shelf itself."
"What a neat creature we have."
"Well...I mean, come on. Not dusted, but it's been used. Recently. This isn't terrifying you?"
"There's no point in being terrified unless we're in danger - Which we're not."
"- Used for what, do you think?"
"I don't know...let's go up, though. It's hard to breathe in here."
"Wait - I'm just going to -"
She trained the lantern all along the walls, close to the ground, and even behind the shelf but found nothing. The floor was completely bare.
"Come on." He was standing half-way up the ladder.
"Even this ladder looks new," she said, fingering it. "But it's crudely made, from the forest."
"You don't think it's old?" he asked.
"Well - maybe. But no, wouldn't the wood rot?"
"I don't think so," he said. "It could be old. Come on up. We can think up here with a clearer head."
She handed him the lantern and pulled herself up. The light was bright, even in the barn, and they shut the trap door.
She stood, and then suddenly grabbed his shoulder.
The sound stuck in her throat.
"I saw something! I thought I saw something in the woods! There - by the trees."
He looked. "I don't see anything."
"Well, it's not there now, but I was sure I saw..."
"What was it?"
"Well, maybe a deer."
"Or a bird. I don't know! I'm not crazy, though, I swear!"
"You know, when one is overly frightened..."
"I'm not. And I'm not delusional."
"I know that. It's just, the mind is a powerful entity."
He covered the trap door with hay mechanically. "But I'm not judging you, because, I mean, I know more than anyone what the mind is capable of."
"You're talking now like you don't believe me." She sat back on her heels.
"I do. I'm just saying, we have to be rational. Like, for example - this cellar has always been there, probably since our great-grandparents owned the place. We just never knew about it. The dust...how could dust collect in a sealed room? And a little thing like the door," he stood and stamped his foot on the hay, "can go unnoticed. Hey, it's even possible that we found it when we were younger and then forgot about it. So..."
"...so these things have a logical explanation."
"And how do you explain the creature?"
"A person dressed up."
"I just think that's our best bet right now."
"And who would do that to me?"
"I don't know."
"I have no enemies! Dagmar... I have none."
"Well, maybe the person wasn't going after you."
"Going after you, then?"
"It's anyone's guess."
"Like, through me?"
He shrugged. "...Or didn't mean to scare you at all."
"But you don't have enemies, either! Yeah, sure, maybe you've ruffled a few feathers and broken a few rules in the past...but we know everyone. And no one would do that in this village. No one we know!"
He sighed, a bit. "Let's go in, anyway. Whatever it is, we obviously should keep watch at night and rest in the day. Hot cocoa, I think."
* * *
Dagmar moved in and over the next few days the farm was untroubled.
The sun rose and set and nothing deadly appeared north, east, south, or west.
But on December 21st he walked in from town and sat down in the kitchen. He was obviously distressed and he spoke immediately.
"Well, the sheriff was at my place today," he said. He hand was stretched out across the table.
She put the tea kettle down. "What? Why?"
"Don't know. Wasn't there when it happened. Thackery said it had something to do with counterfeiting money..." He trained his eyes out the window. A tufted titmouse landed on the bushed outside; the stem bobbed.
"What? Did they...find anything?"
He scoffed. "Well, Dove. What do you think?"
"No - of course not."
"No, of course not."
There was silence.
"So...what are they going to do? What now?" asked Dove.
"Nothing. They can't do anything, because it's a baseless accusation."
"Right. No evidence. I...don't know why they would accuse you in the first place."
He paused, and she could see his chest rise and fall, once, twice, under his blue cotton buttoned shirt.
His voice was quiet. "Now, Dove...you didn't hear anything about this, did you?"
She swallowed hard. "No," she said.
"Not when you were out in the town the other day?"
"No... I didn't talk to anyone there."
"Or when you were at my place?"
"No! I mean - I didn't...I didn't go in or anything," she said.
"Alright." He slid off the chair, gently, and stood.
"Why would I? I know you wouldn't do anything. I know you wouldn't. And even - if you would," she said breathlessly, "I'd stay. I'd help you. I'd help you till the day I...died."
He laughed. "No, never that," he said. "No, please. And I'd never get you that involved. - If ever I were." He went to the door.
"Dagmar!" She did not let go, though the water was boiling: she tightened her grip on the kettle handle.
"Do you remember when we were younger, and going to church, and the preacher talked about hell, and when we got home we talked about whether we thought we'd go there or not?"
"Well, I said if you went to hell, I'd go there with you." She didn't notice the steam beading up on her skin. "I'd leave heaven. - And I still think the same exact thing."
"Well, that's not going to happen." He smiled, and somehow she found the reassurance, though as if to a child, comforting. He pressed his hands against the doorposts. "Nothing bad will ever happen to me. - Or to you, for that matter." He turned and walked out the door. "I wouldn't let it."
* * *
But the poison had been planted in her mind.
"Tell the sheriff it was a man...else you'll be locked up." "It won't come back tonight." "Maybe it didn't mean to frighten you." "What does the dust matter?" "He's printing money." "I'm moving stuff." "I can't reach him on the phone."
That evening they were trying to be festive, as it was the winter solstice, and they sat in the parlor while Dove strung a cord of popcorn and cranberries, in the New England fashion. Her mind was simmering as she glance over at the curly crop, bent down in the lamp light, working, it seemed, feverishly on a play.
"I love how determined you are," she said randomly.
"Hm? Thanks," he muttered.
"How persistence...how focused."
"Dag," she said. "You would never purposefully harm me, right?"
He put down his pen and looked up then, as if shocked.
"Wait, what? You know I wouldn't. Dove," he laughed, "what are you even talking about?"
"Nothing," she said. "I just wanted the assurance." She looked down at her needle, stabbing it into the belly of her red berry.
"Dove, I'd kill the man who tried to hurt you. Foe - or friend - or family."
Now she in turn was stunned. Dagmar almost never spoke passionately.
"Look, if it came to it, I'd even kill myself before I could do that to you."
She tried to laugh, to bring his tone down. "Alright, you've reassured me. And no, I've always known that. My knight, you are."
"Yes," he said, fingering the pointed tip of a whittled stick. "Your knight in the greenwood."
This word lightened the conversation. She smiled again, nearly pricking her finger. "Ah, what crazy kids we were. Running around in the woods like we were mad. I was Princess Allakella, and you were..."
'Yes, that was it! And we fought dragons together...and those slimy creatures...what were they called?"
"...And the black ones who lived in tree, with the bats' wings and poisoned fangs, that used to like to try to flatten themselves like paper and come under the window at night... Vassrykies."
"That's why I kept my slingshot in bed."
"Yes! Mother wondered what that pinging against our walls always was."
She paused, looping her thread. "And then the worst of them...remember that? In fact, the one that out of all of them seemed the most real."
"I remember," said Dagmar.
But his voice had changed.
"They were giant beasts. Six feet tall, at least. Lived in the caves on the hill by the river...what'd we call it? - Daimôn Hill. Right?"
She paused for his agreement, but he did not speak.
"I think they were creatures kind of like men, but their legs and arms were covered completely in fur, and they had a face with a boar's snout, and claws like a bear...and a tail. Did they have a tail? I don't think so."
The room was eerily still and quiet.
"But the funny thing is, they were very much like...very much like..."
And then her face went white.
"Yes," said Dagmar.
* * *
Dove's feet pounded up the stairs. She entered her room, knelt down, and dragged a small, flat chest out from under her bed. She undid the clasp, flung open the lid, and rifled through her old school papers, drawings, essays, stories - things she had not sorted through in years - until she found it.
She slowly drew out a single sheet of paper, dated thirteen years before.
She had always had some talent with a pencil, like her great-aunt. One of the piece of paper was drawn the top-half of a creature - great and tall, robed in thick fur - and it was turned away, rising from a rock on a hillside.
It was the exact replica of what she saw in the barn.
* * *
She floated downstairs and laid the ghost-white paper on the arm of the sofa before Dagmar.
"I've seen it before."
"Yes," he said.
"And you, too."
"Perhaps," he said. "I was waiting for you to remember it."
"Why didn't you mention it?" she cried.
"Because I never trusted my memory," he shrugged.
"And I did what I could to talk you out of it, didn't I? ...Yes, everything is coming back into focus now," said Dove. "I can't believe I'd forgotten it. When I was ten, on the hill, I saw a - hideous thing - up among the rocks. I thought at first it was a bear. But when it stood, it looked to me exactly like a gorilla or a man - and that's when I ran. I just thought later that I had an over-active imagination. ...But then you saw it, too."
He shifted, and stuck the point of the stick against the ball of his finger.
She said, "You saw it two years later. At that point I think I believed what I saw was a bear, or a shadow, or even a man in a fur coat going for a climb. But yours....was so unmistakable."
He seemed as unwilling to speak of it as his plays. "Yes. By the river Skinande," he said quietly, "drinking."
"And you said you saw its face: tusks and teeth. I think I tried hard to convince you you were sick and hallucinating. You were sick right after that. And I think I tried to talk you out of it so much that I was convinced, too. We always had played pretend, and dreams and reality overlapped so much those days that...sometimes we couldn't tell which was which, you know - especially the next day. Dreams were strong then. And finally I think I woke up and believed it was all just a dream."
"As did I."
"And now - this."
"And now this."
"...You were ...I mean, you did see something that time?"
"Who knows. I was ill."
"See, I convinced you too well," she said.
* * *
Dove put away the drawing and later in the day finished her string of puffs and berries. When she had tied off the thread, she held it aloft, and Dagmar asked her where she was going to put it.
"We don't have a tree," he said. "So what's the point of it without a tree? ...Let me go out and get one."
"No!" she said. "Have you lost your mind? Not in those woods. Neither of us are going in there, for sure. - Absolutely not."
"We don't even know if it's in our backwoods anymore," said Dagmar. "Moguncoy has miles of forests."
"If it lives in Daimôn Hill, that's only a mile and a half away. It's too close to be getting a Christmas tree from Sagolandet."
- Sagolandet was the woodland which ran for several miles around the Svenson farmhouse.
"Then..." She searched the room with her eyes, holding the merry tail aloft. "Ah! We'll snake it around the hat-stand. There!"
"You are the goosiest of gooses I ever -"
"- for goodness' sakes; help me, Dag."
"Hold it up there. Yes, and twine it around. Now all we need are some pine branches cut from the yard."
"And it's just as good as a Christmas tree?"
They stood back and admire their work, and then broke down laughing. Dove fell flat on the floor and shrieked and could not rise.
"I'm dying - I'm dying - I'm dying. Help me up. Oh, what a miserable, what an awful Christmas." She wrapped her arms around him. "I just kind of love you."
* * *
The next day, December 22nd, the telephone rang and answered their question in a most alarming fashion.
The sound was sharp and shrill, like a cat whose tail has been trod upon, and Dove had never heard a sound like it: she jumped out of her skin, and nearly ran out of the house.
Presently collecting herself, she answered it.
"Hello, Miss Svenson. Connecting you with Mrs. Taylor now."
In a few minutes, Dove broke into the parlor. "Dagmar, now it's eating animals."
"Animals are disappearing. I just got a call from Mrs. Taylor, warning me about a fox or something."
"A fox. And?"
"It's happening all over the place. And its leaving clean feathers but no body. We both know foxes don't do that. So we know what they're talking about."
"What's the thing taking?" He deposited a bookmark into a book he was reading and unfolded his legs.
"- So far."
"Yeah. Well, yeah, no. I guess should put your flock in the house."
"Did anyone mention actually seeing a fox?"
"No, but listen to this. Mr. Cotter down the lane said he saw something big and black running through the woods."
"...What, these woods?"
"That could easily be a bear, and not the daimôn," said Dagmar. "Bears have been seen in these parts before."
"Mr. Cotter said the animal was running on its legs. I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him myself. But I know no one will believe him, because he lives alone."
"And everyone says he's crazy."
They were silent for a long time.
"So...these woods," eventually said Dagmar.
"It is living in Sagolandet," said Dove.
* * *