The house was massive and oppressive, its gargantuan black bulk crouched menacingly on its little hill. Prescott and Murray, some distance away, talked quietly, as though they were afraid that the house was listening.
“Hmph. In the walls she says. Hmph.” The Chief Constable’s brow furrowed as he pushed back his cap to scratch what remained of his hair. “That is the most you could get from her?”
“That and nothing more. She’s clammed up tight as a lock. All she does is giggle and wriggle in her bonds. The lads from the sanitarium will be back around for her soon enough.” Inspector Prescott didn’t want to say that he heard the children in the walls, or that he could hear them snickering and cavorting. He was afraid that the lads from the sanitarium would take him away as well.
“Have you detected any presence of the children at all? There are recent records of them being on the grounds.” Murray’s eyes bored into Prescott’s, and the Inspector felt like a child that was caught putting a worm on his teacher’s chair. Prescott put on his most normal sounding voice, cleared his throat, and told Murray the whole truth.
Murray listened non-judgmentally, nodding his head occasionally as Prescott explained that he was uncertain if it was real or imagined.
“The whole place is so extravagantly Gothic that it is hard not to imagine Dracula sneaking to the bathroom or the Wolfman playing snooker. Yet, I am as certain as I can be that I heard the sound of children at play, and it was coming from within the walls.” Explained Prescott, feeling less insane when he added qualifiers to his statements.
The Chief Constable adjusted his cap and tugged on the hem of his glove. He was silent, and his silence put Prescott on edge.
“Is there a way of ingress?” asked Murray after an agonizingly long pause.
“None that we have seen, but the place is labyrinthine. It could take weeks to find an entry to a crawlspace even if it was obvious. If it is hidden beneath the wainscoting then we may very well never find anything until the children come out of their own accord.” Prescott looked on the house from afar and a fleeting dread tickled at his bones. He wanted to go back to his warm bed and lay down next to his wife.
“Hammers,” concluded Murray, “We’ll smack some holes in the walls and take a look around. We can’t just let the children stay there alone and shut in.” The Chief Constable’s chest bulged with the pride he took in his duty. Prescott couldn’t help but picture Murray as a shirtless, hammer wielding poster-boy for the propaganda posters.
“Well, if I may be excused then, I have to get on the radio and see if Perkins is on the way with the back-up runabout.” Prescott knew that such a weak reason would not excuse him from going back into the house and hammering into the walls beside the Chief Constable.
“It’s for the children,” said Murray with a smile and a gleam in his eyes.
“You could do with an affair, you know. This marriage to duty is a one way street.” Prescott sighed with resignation as he trudged back towards the house while Murray went to find a pair of sledgehammers. The Inspector examined the hallway, studying the dark wooden stairwell that led elegantly up to the house’s upper floors. Mrs. Wilson’s grunting and laughs echoed through the place. Shutting out the noise, Prescott wondered what would inspire someone to build such a large and gaudy structure. Despite his deep concentration, his mind still lingered in the foyer; a sudden creak jerked his attention to a painting which was hanging askew.
Tiny fingers reached out from the secret passage that was obscured by the painting. His hand reached for his whistle, and his feet were all ready carrying him backwards. The children, dressed in rags and caked with grey dust, leaped towards him with feline agility. Before he could manage to toot his whistle, they were on him, pulling on his legs and biting his hands. The eldest boys, barely in the teens, were strong for their age, and wrenched Prescott’s arm, sending numbness climbing into the imperiled Inspector’s shoulder. The youngest boy and the girl bit into his legs, gnawing like mice.
“Help!” cried the Inspector as he wheeled about, kicking a leg high in the air and trying to shake loose the girl. Her grip tightened and her teeth sank deeper into the Inspector’s flesh. Staring with feral eyes, she loosed an animalistic growl as blood seeped from Prescott’s wound. In a panic, Prescott dropped hard onto his knees and into a tumble, shaking the eldest boys’ grasp and loosening the girl’s grip. Flinging his leg out, he sent her flying through the air. She struck the hardwood banister and flopped to the floor.
Regaining his footing, Prescott blew on his whistle to alert the other officers and began to pull the youngest boy from his leg. Looking up, he saw Murray rushing forward, with one sledgehammer raised mightily over his head. The other was arcing towards one of the eldest boys and crashed into his shoulder with a resonating crack that seemed to bring a sudden soberness to the wild scene.
“Next one’s going to crack a skull, Sonny Jim,” said the Chief Constable, his indomitable presence filling the room. “I’ll have order and I’ll have answers, or I’ll have the lot of you in a hole.” The youngest boy relinquished his grip on Prescott’s leg and began to whine, while the eldest who was still standing glared at Murray.
Prescott stood between the two; Murray’s grip of iron was clamped onto two hammers, and each seemed thirsty for smashing. The eldest boy seemed more animal than man. His eyes lacked any human intelligence, and his posture was more akin to an ape than a human.
“I don’t think he understands,” suggested Prescott. “He’s gone wild.”
“He understands just fine,” said the Chief Constable as the boy backed away to look at his wounded brother. Murray lowered his hammers as the other officers arrived to restrain the children. Mrs. Wilson’s gibbering laughter rang through the hall even as Murray and Prescott left the house.