William Fitzgerald lived alone in a house that he had bought twenty-three years ago. The house was weathered and gray, and he had in those years replaced the yard with a dense tangle of portugal laurel and blackberry vines. Thanks to his diligence these stood twenty feet tall and blocked all view of the house. No path led through the tangle to his front door, save one, well hidden, protected by three feet of thorns and stinging nettles. He had no mail box; any correspondence would be through the office.
William Fitzgerald twisted his way through the brambles with long practice. He walked toward the house with poor posture and unsettled brain. The twilight and unaccustomed sobriety disturbed him, filled him with inchoate fears. It was pitch and rooty under the laurels, but he had been walking this path for twenty years and it had grown into him.
They were waiting for him, somehow, in his house, invisible in the darkness when he sidled through the door. He felt their breathing and raised his head but it was too late. The hands he couldn’t see seized him and something soft and sweet-smelling was pressed over his face. He didn’t struggle; he breathed in, passed out. He heard the gentle chiming of bells.