It was a damp, cold November evening when Franklin Weed dropped into the newly opened Kensington Antiques, just down from an old crumbling chapel on the main street of Ebon Eaves; Franklin had barely known his uncle Henry and so had been surprised when the old man had left him the tottering pile known as Weed Manor in his will; as might be expected of such a place, it was crammed with all manner of oddments and assorted objets d'art that had been collected through his uncles life. So it was that young Mr Weed had scoured the local directories for someone to help him inventory and catalogue the assorted items and had come across a small advertisement for the newly opened Kensington Antiques, proprietor one Ms Kensington, a young woman with a round face and plain, smart clothing.
The two of them had been amicably discussing arrangements for the inventory the bell on the door of the shop rang and a young woman's voice called out "Hello there, shop!" Excusing herself Ms Kensington walked to the front of the shop where she was met by a young woman wearing black clothing of the latest city style and a pair of tinted spectacles; the young woman introduced herself as Tiffany Blaine, she seemed delighted that there were at least two more younger people in the town, remarking on the aged population of Ebon Eaves, something that Ms Kensington had noticed herself since moving there. Whilst the two women haggled over the price of a chaise long said to have been smuggled out of Napoleonic france, Ms Blaine revealed that she was a widow and lived in Blaine House up on Castle Hill, one of the three large hills surrounding the town, the others being Barrow Hill (where Weed Manor was built) and the other Wyrm Hill, home to the abode of the town Mayor Mr Finch. Ms Blaine finished making arrangements for one of her domestic servants to pick up the chaise whilst Ms Kensington mentioned that she was planning to host a small get-together, Tiffany seemed delighted, saying that she would almost certainly attend and that Ms Kensington should send her invitation to Blaine House.
Returning her attention to Mr Weed, Ms Kensington agreed to accompany him to Weed Manor and inspect the collected goods, unfortunately a storm was brewing outside and Franklin struggled to start his car, a kindly old woman rushed over to help, holding an umbrella over Mr Weed whilst he struggled with the mechanics of the car; the woman introduces herself as Sheila Bradley and it turns out that she knew Franklin's uncle Henry, calling him a fine figure of a man and remarking that it was a sad way for such a kind man to end his life. Having heard no real accounts of his uncle's death Franklin pressed her for me information and was told that he has been struck by lightning whilst on Barrow Hill, Sheila says that her son Peter (who works for the local constabulary) had been one of the first on the scene; further attempts at conversation were cut off by the car suddenly spluttering into life, Ms Bradley bid them farewell and headed off across the street. Ms Kensington had been distracted by some strange blobs of light that she had seen hovering over the church tower, but there was a flash of lightning and when she blinked her eyes the shapes had gone, leaving not even an after-image.
The car chugged down the road, Mr Weed squinting against the rain pounding down on his car windscreen, there was a sudden flash as they reached the bridge crossing the river on the round to Barrow Hill, a forked tongue of lightning struck the decaying stone structure and most of it tumbled into the thrashing water of the river and disappeared beneath the spray; pulling the car to a screeching halt Franklin got out to inspect the bridge, it appeared that enough of it had survived for them to edge across it on foot but they would have to leave the car behind, not wanting to have come all this way for nothing, Ms Kensington agreed and stepped out into the rain.
Eventually after a long water (and thoroughly drenched) the two of them arrived at the old greystone buildings of Weed Manor, the building had once been a farmhouse many years ago and had gradually grown into the stately home that it was now, although clearly it had seen better days; having been in the town for a while, Ms Kensington remembered hearing a story about how the previous occupant had dismissed all of his staff a couple of years before his own death, giving no explanation. As they walked up the driveway to the house a furtive,m shadowy figure lurked near the door, Franklin stepped forward to challenge him and the figure resolved itself into an old man with sparse grey hair, wearing a flat cap and long coat; the man introduced himself as Jeremiah Tompkins, explaining that he had once been a manservant in the house and, hearing there was a new occupant, had come to see whether or not there was any chance of future employment. A little unsure of the fellow, but eager to perhaps find out more about his uncle, Franklin bid Jeremiah make some food for himself and Ms Kensington whilst the two of them explored the old house further.
Upstairs Franklin found an american civil war uniform in a wardrobe, the southern clothing was in remarkable condition, in the pocket was a woodcut showing a man wearing the uniform who bore a remarkable resemblance to Jeremiah, who was even now clattering around in the kitchen downstairs making food; Ms Kensington meanwhile had been poking around in a dusty linrary, most of the books were useless and long decayed but when she pulled on a remarkably well preserved book the bookcase slid aside to reveal some sort of concealed staircase heading down, thinking that she must tell Franklin she slid the passage closed and began to make her way upstairs. As she left the library Ms Kensington's eye was caught by the frame of a large painting, it had a plaque bearing a date 100 years previous to the day and appeared to show the gathered people of the town, one of them looked remarkably like Franklin, but more shocking was that two of the people looked strikingly like Sheila and Jeremiah. Screwed up at the foot of the picture she found a piece of paper containing the names of about sixty people ('must be everyone in the town' thought Ms Kensington) plus another ten that were crossed out, two of the crossed out names were Sally Tompkins and Tom Bradley listed under Jeremiah Tompkins and Sheila Bradley.
Walking back downstairs Franklin poured over Ms Kensington's finds, he also showed a note that he had discovered:
"I know what we did was wrong now and I intend to make amends for my part in it - all the time in the world isn't worth the price we paid. H.W. "
Leading Franklin to the library Ms Kensington revealed the secret passage, pulling a flickering torch from her coat pocket and shining it into the darkness to illuminate a stone staircase heading down to a strange underground tunnel, odd scratches covered the wall and, as they walked down it, roots began to protrude through the ceiling letting them know that they were reaching the boundaries of the Ebon Wood behind the Weed Estate.
From up ahead of them a strange chewing, grinding sound echoed down the tunnel, Ms Kensington swung her torch but with a spluttering flicker the torch died, plunging the scene into darkness, Ms Kensington's foot knocked against something and she reached down to feel a human skull beneath her fingers, scarred with bite marks that resembled the imprint of human teeth, "We need to get out of here" said Ms Kensington, aware the the chewing noise had suddenly stopped.
Scrabbled feet sprinted down the tunnel towards them, both Franklin and Ms Kensington shrieked and turned around, running back down the tunnel, Franklin leapt up the staircase into the library, but Ms Kensington stumbled, fearing that any moment she would feel the hot breath of her pursuer on her neck, instead she heard the voiced of Jeremiah saying "Quickly Miss lets get you out of there" and strong hands pulled her up the stairs before sliding the secret door shut. Whatever had been pursuing them banged on the other side of the secret door for a few minutes and then all fell silent.
Franklin attempted to press Jeremiah about what had just happened but all the uncomfortable looking old man would say is that the woods were dangerous and that it was best not to go in them, not if the two of them wanted to fit in around the town, he seemed almost ashamed as he talked but re-iterated that he thought some new blood was just what Ebon Eaves needed. Ms Kensington had recovered and grabbed some books from the library shelves, flipped through them she came across very little due to the damaged condition of the books besides a legend about a tree in the woods being struck by lightning and petrified about one hundred years ago. Taking a gamble Franklin offered to re-employ Jeremiah in return for further information, he seemed about ready to talk when there was a rumble of thunder and a sound of exploding glass, a jagged spear of lightning smashed through the bay window of the library, striking Jeremiah in the centre of his chest; Ms Kensington ran over to him expecting the strike to have instantly killed the old man, she was surprised that he clung to life, lasting just long enough to say "Sally, i'm so sorry."
The storm was getting worse outside and Franklin reached for the telephone to call the emergency service when it rang shortly before he could put his hand on it, as Ms Kensington covered up the body with a cloth Franklin answered it, he recognised the crackling voice of Tiffany Blaine on the other end of the line, she told them that the Mayor and police department were gathering all of the locals in the abandoned church to keep everyone together during the crisis, then the phone went dead. Still shocked by events, but realising that they might find some police help at the church the Mr Weed and Ms Kensington made their way back through the pouring rain to the main street of Ebon Eaves and to the old church where most of the locals had gathered inside, Sheila Bradley was making mugs of steaming tea and passing them around trying to comfort people.
A few minutes passed and a woman's voice from outside shouted to be let in, it appeared that another one of the locals had made their way to the crumbling sanctuary, an elderly resident of the town opened the door to let her in and was rewarded when a lightning strike hit him, blasting him back across the room as a smoking corpse. "This place has a lightning conductor you said," mused Franklin to Ms Kensington "how could the lightning strike through the door like that?"
"It can't" whispered Ms Kensington in reply, her voice on the edge of ragged panic
Looking around the room Franklin noticed that both Ms Blaine and Mayor Finch were conspicuously absent (he remembered seeing both of them when they had arrived less than an hour ago), he could hear raised voices coming from a side chamber, realising that he might hear better from the confession booth that back onto the side chamber, Franklin slipped inside and cupped his hands to his ear, pressing it against the back wall of the confession booth.
"I didn't think it would be like this?" said a woman's voice
"This is the price that you have to accept Ms Blaine," replied a masculine voice "I think you could be a good fit in Ebon Eaves"
"But you never said it would be..."
"I didn't think it would be, normally have more time, but perhaps including you in our bargain has bought the deadline forwards?"
"But the people, the lightning..." stuttered Ms Blaine
"Think of what we're offering though, you'll have time to make up for the price, all we're asking is two young people that you barely know, then you'll be one of us, forever" replied the voice of Mayor Finch.
Slipping out of the confessional Franklin whispered "We need to get out of here" to Ms Kensington and the two of them began making their way towards the door.
"I don't think so Mr Weed" said the cruel voice of Mayor Franklin as he emerged from the side-chamber lifting a spike of petrified wood in his hand, "now don't struggle and you have my word i'll make this as painless as possible."
Ms Kensington had been rummaging in her coat pockets for something to help and her fingers closed around a bag of magnesium powder that she had used to help take some publicity photographs of her shop, she hurled it into one of the lit church candles and a bright flash filled the room dazing most of the townsfolk; unfortunately it didn't seem to affect the mayor who lunged forward, batting aside the candlestick holder that Franklin was attempting to defend himself with and sinking the spike of petrified wood into Franklin's chest, Franklin screamed as he felt his own blood pulsing down his shirt.
"Ms Kensington, run!" shouted Franklin as, with the last of his fading strength he hurled himself towards Mr Finch, seeing the gleefully mad gleam in the man's eyes.
Sprinting out of the door to the church before the townsfolk could recover Ms Kensington didn't look back, her heart pounding in her chest as she ran towards the border of Ebon Eaves, behind her a scream that sounded both like Franklin and wholely unlike anything torn from a human throat rent the air and overhead the rain began to stop and the clouds to clear, blue sky showing through the grey as the lightning's price was paid.