This particular axe was rusty and seemingly untouched, embedded in a rotting stump decorated with a frosting of lacy orange fungi. Jane never even gave it a second glance during her initial exploration of the house.
“The owners said the place is over a hundred years old,” Mum said with a soft grunt, heaving a suit case up onto the front porch. The house was covered in leafless vines that seemed to be trying and failing to hold the flaking white paint together. “A pair of spinsters lived in it all their lives until a few years back.”
“What’s a spinster?” Liam piped up from the car. He was struggling with his own backpack, clearly caught on something his scrawny arms were just too short to reach. His right cheek and chin were lined with creases from when he’d fallen asleep on the backseat during the drive.
“It’s a woman who never marries,” Jane replied and lifted his bag with ease, jostling it so its strap came loose from under her own suitcase.
“Does she spin?” Charlotte called out, her lips twisting in a smirk. She lounged on the porch steps, ignoring Mum leafing through her bag trying to find the house keys. With a victorious cheer Mum pulled them out and promptly dropped them and Jane swore she could hear Charlotte’s eyes roll as she slammed the boot shut. Jane ignored her sister and ushered Liam inside, breathing in deeply and savouring the dusty smell of wall paper and time. Liam dropped his bag and used both hands to shove open the nearest door, sending dust particles dancing in the afternoon light.
“Hey look, a fireplace! Maybe we could light a fire!” Liam called out. Jane peered into the living room and smiled, leaning against the doorframe as she took in the fireplace, wood glistening with polish and sharp edges smoothed down with age. Liam was crouching down in front of it, prodding the ash into swirling figures with a long black poker.
“Don’t be stupid, Liam,” Charlotte shouted back without even bothering to look. “It takes ages to get a fire going and that’s if the crappy thing even works.”
“Don’t call him stupid,” Jane frowned as she ushered Liam back out into the hallway. “There’s no reason we can’t give it a go. It would be lovely to watch a crackling fire ‘cause I doubt this place as a TV.”
“No TV? Only you’d like a place with no TV!” Charlotte sneered.
“Oi! What did I say about no fighting?” Mum exclaimed as she lugged her suitcase into the closest room. “Let’s try and make it through this trip with as little bloodshed as possible.” With her back turned Charlotte managed to get in a quick pinch and Liam’s eyes began to well up with tears.
“Hey Liam,” Jane quickly said, grabbing his hand and attention. “Let’s find you the best room in the house!”
An hour later Mum had gone to visit the neighbour and current caretaker of the house to pay for their stay and Liam had found an old cricket bat and ball and was chasing it all over the yard. The two sisters had gathered in the sitting room as Jane had declared it was by far the prettiest. The drapery was the colour of spilled wine and the fireplace was magnificent, full of character and just begging to be used. Jane loved every cobweb.
Charlotte toed off her sneakers and slumped into a chair making it creak with fatigue. She morosely looked out the grubby windows onto fields of brown and the sluggish river that promised little amusement. Her eyes flicked to her older sister who settled herself on the threadbare rug in front of the black fireplace grate. Jane liked old stuff and things that smelled like rot and mould. So it was unsurprising when she carefully flipped open the old guest registry and tapped a finger lightly down the page as her lips moved.
“You should see this,” Jane whispered. Charlotte puffed her hair out of her eyes and said, “What?” The word hung heavily in the air and Charlotte immediately wished to gather it back.
“There are entries from before we were even born! We should write something too!”
“Only morons read that crap,” Charlotte grumbled and returned to glaring out the window.
“I think it’s interesting,” Jane said softly. “It’s like a memory that’ll always remain here. Imagine! In twenty years time…”
A door slammed shut and the two girls jumped.
“This place is haunted,” Charlotte taunted and Jane blushed. Liam and Charlotte had already made her shriek today and she doubted they would ever let her live it down.
“No such thing as ghosts.”
Another thud and then someone was screaming.
“Oh god!” Jane tossed the guestbook aside and scampered across the floor until she was on her feet and running towards the desperate wailing. “Liam! Where are you! Liam!” she shouted with Charlotte close on her heels.
“He was outside!” Charlotte shouted and the two slid into the kitchen and tugged on the rusty latch to the garage. The door lurched open and Jane felt a scream lodge in her throat. Liam stood, mouth wide, his eyes squeezed shut and his hands cupping the blood pouring from his face.
“Oh god Liam!” Charlotte gasped and spun back into the kitchen, knocking over the dish rack in her haste and sending dozens of plates shattering to the ground. She snagged the roll of paper towelling and winced as her shoes crunched over the broken crockery but she didn’t stop.
Jane dropped to her knees as Charlotte pulled reams of the paper out and began soaking up the blood in his hands, counting his fingers.
“Liam. Look at me,” Jane soothed. “Tell me what happened. Where are you hurt?” Her eyes darted from his fingers to his cheeks to the curve of his throat and the shells of his ears.
“I wanted,” he sobbed “I wanted and then…then I found… I wanted to make the fireplace work.” Jane spotted the unbloody axe discarded by the rotting stump. An ugly gash across the wood marked Liam’s attempts at making fire wood and large splinters littered the ground, some as long as Jane’s middle finger.
“Where does it hurt?” Jane repeated and he gestured to his nose, his hands brown with his own drying blood. Carefully Jane dabbed at his face until he yelped. There was a tiny cut between his nose and left eye that wept blood and after a little more tidying up it was clear he also had a nose bleed. Already his nose was starting to swell and his eyes bruise. “Better call Mum,” Jane said to Charlotte and for once her sister didn’t argue.