Jacky Fowler's Stuff

September 16, 2010

Gothic Ghost Story I

Filed under: FridayFlash — jackyfowler @ 10:53 am
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I was at the hearth in the library, banking up the fire; quiet as a mouse, anxious to remain unnoticed.

“No – by all that’s Holy, I want that boot-jack now! You girl – Nan – go down to the cellars and find it. Now!” the General bellowed.

I flinched as he shouted my name and reluctantly stood up. I gazed at the stone-faced butler in entreaty, hoping against hope he would save me by sending someone else. But there was no reprieve – the General had given his orders and must be obeyed…

Coming from a home that was humble, but bright and cheerful, I had been daunted when I was first engaged as an under-housemaid at gloomy Merchiston Mains. Cramped corridors and cold, stone staircases snaked their way around the melancholic interior and most of its oak-panelling had darkened almost to blackness over two hundred years. I had grown accustomed to the perpetual twilight and sinister shadows in the house over the last few months, but without knowing quite why I should be afraid, I shrank from descending into its dank cellars.  

I had only been down into their clammy, cheerless maw once, and in the company of the housekeeper. Even that no-nonsense martinet had glanced nervously over her shoulder more than once. Our errand swiftly despatched, we had hurried back to the light and warmth of the kitchen. Nothing had been said; nevertheless we both knew the other had been fearful down in the cellars. But of what, I didn’t know…

Still, there was no escape from the dreaded task now before me. Taking a lantern from the kitchen I descended the precipitous cellar stairway.

“It’s just dark and a bit damp, that’s all – don’t be silly,” I chided myself. But each step I took got slower and slower and the light from the lantern wavered over the cold stones as my hands shook a little.

At last I arrived at the door at the foot of the stairs and bit by bit pushed it open into the murky cellar.

Having placed the light on a packing-case, I was groping about among the boxes within its limited circle of illumination when, much to my astonishment, I remarked the flame of the candle turn blue and flare much brighter. I barely had time to take in this strange phenomenon when I felt an icy cold steal upon me. I shivered and clasped my arms around me, both for warmth and comfort.

Clang!

I flinched at the sound emanating from a far-off corner of the cellar. Its reverberations were deafening, causing me put my hands to my ears to try, in vain, to shut it out.

I peered in the direction of the noise. It had sounded like a heavy metal object clattering to the stone flags. How? There was no one in the cellar but me and not even a breath of wind was coming down from the kitchen.

My eyes widened in disbelief. I could clearly see two eyes – two obliquely set, lurid, light-coloured eyes, staring at me with the glint of the devil in them. Sick with terror, I screamed – or tried to. No sound emerged from my frozen vocal chords.

I stood stock-still; my limbs would not obey my urgent need to turn and run. My throat was parched, my tongue tied, my mind numb.

A flicker of sanity returned. It must be an animal, yes that was it, an animal trapped in the cellar somehow. It was a relief to have found an explanation, and slowly I exhaled, unaware until then that I had been holding my breath.

The clanging noise was repeated and a shadowy form began slowly to crawl towards me.

It was no animal, of that I was made terribly aware. A man’s form slowly coalesced before me. The candle flared even brighter and I realised I could still perceive packing cases through the crouching figure – it could not be a real man!

“Dear God, dear God, dear God.” I couldn’t even manage a prayer. I just hoped God would hear me and understand I needed his help – now!

Malevolence glittered in the eyes and the shape gradually stood up, revealing itself to be tall and thin – almost skeletal.

I struggled to avert my gaze from those inhuman eyes. The apparition’s lips moved furiously without emitting any sound, as if endeavouring to speak, but it could not.

“Don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me,” I managed to whisper.

The eyes narrowed and there was no answer.

My fingers closed convulsively on the folds of my apron, but still I was pinned to the spot.

The phantasm took a step towards me. I tried once more to divert my gaze, but could not – an irresistible attraction held me mesmerised by the approaching horror. It came closer … and closer.

“Dear God, girl. How much longer will you be about your task?”

Never had the stentorian tones of the General been so welcome. And as the clatter of his boots descending the stairs filled the cellar I observed my tormentor take a step backwards. The spectre held out one hand and pointed at me, a grim warning in its evil eyes as it dissolved and disappeared.

“Where the devil is my boot-jack?” barked the General as he saw me standing amongst the packing cases.

I gasped, and the darkness embraced me…

 “I knew she had sensed it when we went down there a few weeks ago,” the housekeeper’s voice whispered as I woke. “We should have warned her.”

“Nonsense,” the butler’s stern voice rebuked. “It’s never harmed anyone, and why frighten her?”

“Well, she’s been well and truly frightened now. And perhaps it just hasn’t had the chance to harm anyone yet?”

I remembered the pointing finger, and I was sure it would take its chance when it came.

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