The Christmas Horror Final

Part III

Spirit Council“Still smiling bravely I closed her door behind me and, as I crossed the landing a bright light came from another room, whose door was left slightly open. The light fell like a golden path across my way and, as I approached the light’s source, the door opened wider and my sister Lucy came out. She had bee waiting for me and came out in a white cashmere robe, over which her loosened dark hair hung heavily, like tangles of silk. “Rose,” she whispered, “Mary and I cannot bear the idea of you sleeping in that place, all alone. That isolated bedroom, and the very room the old housekeeper used to talk about! Mary has already given up her room to come to sleep in mine. We would also like for you to stay with us, for tonight at least still we should so wish you to stop with us to-night at least. We could make up a bed on the sofa for me or you–“ I stopped Lucy’s speech with a kiss of thanks.

“I declined Lucy’s offer and did not allow her to finish her plea to me. I was angry, full of self-pride, and I would have done anything but accept a proposal that was made in the belief that my nerves had been shaken by all the ghostly tales that had been told. I wondered if they really thought that I was a weak, superstitious little girl, unable to spend a night in a strange bedroom. Again I kissed Lucy and bade her good-night, before proceeding on my way with a laugh, just to show that I was not frightened. Yet, as I looked back along the dark corridor and could see Lucy’s door was still open and she was peering after me. For a moment I wanted to return to her, but a sense of shame at such cowardice forced me to go on, and I waved her good night.

“Turning the corner, I peeped back over my shoulder and saw the door close, extinguishing the light and bringing back the darkness. Just at that very moment I thought I heard a heavy sigh, and I looked sharply around to see where the noise was coming from. But, there was no one there, and there no door was open. Yet, I did hear with great clarity a sigh, which was breathed not far from where I stood. It was a clear sigh, and not to be confused with the groan of tree branches as the wind outside tossed them to and. I was afraid, and my nervous system was kicking in as my imagination began to play strange tricks on me.

“Ahead of me lay the picture-gallery and I had never passed this part of the house without light before. There was a gloomy array of tall portraits whose eyes seemed to follow my every movement. The lozenge-paned or painted windows rattled as the wind blew fiercely past them. In the darkness many of the portraits looked stern and very different from their daylight expression. In other portraits a furtive, flickering smile seemed to mock me as my torch light illuminated them. Not surprisingly, I felt ill at ease under their stony gaze, though I knew that they were not real people. To ease my passage I smiled and hummed a song to myself. I would even laugh to myself at some of those pictures as I confronted them, and slowly, nervously continued on my way in silence.

“Shaking off my earlier fears, I blushed at my weakness, and continued to look for my room, very happy that I was the only one to witness my trembling. As I entered my room I thought I heard something move in the much neglected ‘glory-hole’, which was the only neighbouring room to mine. But I was determined not to let my nerves send me into a panic again and I closed my eyes and ears to slight noise. After all, between the rats and the wind, an old manor-house on a stormy night needs no ghosts or other spirits to disturb it. So, I entered the bedroom, and rang for a maid. But, as I did so, I looked around my room, and a terrible, inexplicable repugnance to my new surroundings overcame me, despite of my best efforts.

“This was not a simple chill that made my body shiver, and could be easily shaken off. There was an intense feeling of dislike, accompanied by a deep sense of apprehension; the sort of instinct that allows us to regard certain places and people are not entirely beneficial to us. Some of you will undoubtedly consider such things as being irrational, but it is by instinct that we often can distinguish friends from enemies. It is often said, ‘Show me a man whom children and dogs shrink from, and I will show you a bad man, who speaks lies, and has murder in his heart.’ So, we should never despise the gift of instinct that causes the horse to tremble when the lion crouches in the thicket. As I looked around me in this strange bedroom I felt the presence of danger, and yet I could not explain why I should feel this way. It was a nice room, with drawn green damask curtains, a warm fire burning bright in the hearth, and small table lamps that provided light. The pretty little white bed, also, looked peaceful and inviting, promising me a peaceful night’s sleep.

“My maid arrived in the room and immediately began to assist in my preparations for bed. She was a friendly face on a night when I just did not want to be on my own, and I shamelessly encouraged her to gossip. In fact we gossiped so much that it took Maura, the maid, a half an hour longer than usual to get through her duties. Then, when all was done that had to be done, Maura asked me if there was anything more that I required from her. She gave a little yawn as she spoke, and I felt sorry for having kept her so long. “There’s nothing more,” I told her and she left me, closing the door gently behind her.

“With the closing of the bedroom door I was left all alone once again, and I quickly began to feel very uneasy. Everything that was in the room that I had previously liked, I now took a terrible dislike. In fact, I was sorely tempted to put on a dressing-gown and run, half-dressed, through the corridors to my sisters’ room, and tell them that I had a change of mind and wanted to take up their kind offer to sleep in their room. But thinking that they must be asleep by this time, I decided it would not be very kind to awaken them again. Instead, I said my prayers with a little more earnestness than was usual and with a heavy heart I put out the lamp. I was just about to lay my head on my pillow, when I suddenly had the idea that I should lock bedroom door with the key. The flames from the burning fire were enough to guide me in the darkness and I quickly managed to reach the door. There was indeed a lock, but it would not allow me to turn the key in it, no matter how hard I tried. It was evident that there was, at one time, a bolt on the door, but it was now broken and completely worthless to me. Contenting myself that there was nothing more that I could do I returned to my bed, where I lay awake for a good while, watching the red glow of the burning coals in the grate.

“Everything was quiet now, and I was feeling a lot more composed within my mind. Talking to Maura had done me a lot of good and had helped divert my thoughts. I was just about to drop off to sleep, when I was suddenly disturbed, twice. The first occasion was caused by an owl, which was hooting from its hiding place within the ivy outside my window. It was a sound that I had heard many times but, this time, it much more harsh and melancholy. The second disturbance was a long and mournful howl created by the family’s large hound that had been chained-up in the yard. It was a long-drawn out howl, and sounded almost as if it was heralding a death in the family. I knew, of course, that this was nonsense, but I could not help feeling that those mournful tones were sad, and expressed the dog’s terror of something evil that it could sense nearby. But, my body was tired and I soon fell asleep in that small, comfortable bed.

“I cannot tell how long I slept, but I awoke at once with an abrupt start which took me from a state of utter unconsciousness to the full use of my senses in a matter of seconds. The coals in the fire were still burning in the grate, but the light it radiated was very low, and more than half the room was now in deep shadow. Instantly I felt that there was someone, or something, in the room with me, but, in the low light nothing unusual could be seen. Nevertheless, I could sense that there was a danger present, and it was that sense of peril that had aroused me from my sleep. I experienced that chill and shock of alarm, knowing that there was an intruder in that room who was invisible to me. My ears were attuned  to hear the slightest sound that might give away the intruder’s position, but I could only hear the faint sounds of the fire, and the loud, irregular beatings of my own heart.

“Perhaps it was intuition that told me that I was not alone in that room. I waited, and my heart pounded quicker, and its pulsations grew as my fear deepened. It was this time that I heard a faint, distinct sound of a chain rattling, and I tried to lift my head from the pillow. Although the light was very dim I saw the curtains shake, and I caught a glimpse of something darker beyond them. I tried to cry out, but I could not utter a single word. The chain rattled again, but much louder and clearer this time. In the dim darkness, I caught a glimpse of something, but no matter how hard I tried I could not penetrate the shadows at the other end of the room, where the noise appeared to be generated.  My mind was now suddenly filled with all sorts of questions. Was it a robber? Could it be a supernatural visitor? Or was I the victim of some sort of an unpleasant practical joke? My anxiety levels continued to rise, restraining me and preventing me from speaking.

“Then the chain clanked nearer to my bed as I began to notice a dusky, shapeless mass appear between the curtains on the opposite side to where I was lying. I could hear no sound but that of the curtains rustling and the clash of the iron chains. Suddenly, the dying flames of the fire leaped up, and the door to the room was firmly closed. It was then that I saw something resembling human form that now threw itself heavily upon the bed, and lay there, huge and dark, in the red gleam that now died away after arousing so much fear and returned the room to darkness. There was now no light in the room, though the red cinders remaining in the hearth glowed like the eyes of wild beasts. The chain did not rattle again, but I still tried to scream wildly for help. My mouth was so parched, my tongue refused to co-operate and I could not utter a cry.  Even if I could have called out I could not be sure that anyone would have heard me from my lonely room, which was so far from another living being. The storm that howled outside would have easily drowned out my pleas, even if help had been nearer to hand. To call out aloud would have been both useless and perilous, especially if the intruder was a robber and my calls had angered him to violence. Whatever it was that lay by my side could not be seen and I began to pray aloud as my mind filled with images from the weird and fascinating stories of my childhood. The spirits of wicked men that were forced to revisit the scenes of their earthly crimes, of demons that skulked about in certain accursed spots, of ghouls and vampires that wandered among the graves, which they broke into and gather for their ghostly banquets. Thoughts of such creatures caused me to shudder and I could feel it stirring beside me, moaning hoarsely. Again I heard the clinking of chains close to me, and I pulled myself away from it in my fear and loathing. I did not know what the presence was, but I was certain that it was something malignant, and a harbinger of evil.

“Although I was very much afraid, I knew that I dared not speak. I wanted to be silent, because I was still convinced that, whatever this presence was, it had not yet discovered that I was in the room with it. And then I remembered all the events of the night, Lady Hurst’s ill-omened half-warnings, and particularly my sister’s remark that this was the room the old housekeeper used to warn us to avoid. Then I recalled the long-forgotten repute that this disused room had gained, the many grievous sins it had witnessed, the blood that had been spilled, the poison administered by unnatural hate and greed, and the stories that condemned it as haunted. It was ‘The Green Room’, and how the servants avoided it, how it was rarely mentioned, and then only in whispers, when we were children. The entire household regarded it as a mysterious place that was totally unfit for mortal habitation. I wondered if this presence was the creature which haunted the room, and what type of creature was it?

“The chain faintly rattled again and the hair on my head bristled at the sound, as my eyes strained in their sockets, and the cold sweat of terror dripped from my brow. My heart did not beat so freely, occasionally appearing to stop, and sometimes its pulses were hurried, which caused my breaths to be short and extremely difficult. Although my body shivered, as if it was cold, I was still much too fearful to move. But, the mysterious presence moved, moaned, and its chains clanked dismally, while the bed creaked and shook. This presence, therefore, was not a spectre, but something very solid and real that its presence increased my terror a thousand times. At that moment I felt that I was in the grasp of something both evil and dangerous, in the presence of which I was now sick with fear. In desperation I slipped silently from the bed, grabbed a nearby dressing-gown, which I wrapped around me, and tried to inch my way to the door on my hands and knees.

“I was very excited at the possibility of escaping this unknown being, but I had scarcely moved a foot before the moaning began again. In a moment it changed into a threatening growl that sounded as if it had come from the depths of some dark a wolf’s throat, and a hand appeared as if from nowhere and clutched at my sleeve. I became frozen to the spot. That muttering growl changed again to a moan and, although there was no further clanking of the chain, the ghostly hand still held a tight grip of my sleeve. I was afraid to move even an inch because I was now certain that this being was aware of my presence. My brain was spinning as the blood pounded through my heart, and my knees lost all of their strength, while my body shook like that of a deer caught in the stare of a wolf pack. In my numbing terror it appeared to me that I was losing all of my senses at once.

“Once my senses returned I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, shivering with cold, and barefooted. There wasn’t a sound, but I could still feel my sleeve still being gripped by a strong, unearthly being. The silence seemed to last a long time, though it may have only been a matter of minutes, and it was eventually by a devilish laugh that almost caused the marrow in my bones to freeze. Then I heard what appeared to be the gnashing of teeth, and then a wailing moan, which was followed by silence once again. My fear was such that I could not feel time passing, or hear the hours chime on the clock. All the while hideous visions passed before my eyes, which continued to gaze into that pitch blackness where the invisible being lay.

“In my feverish fear I pictured the being in every abhorrent form imaginable to me. I saw it as a skeleton with hollow eye sockets and grinning, fleshless jaws. Next, I envisaged a vampire, with its ashen coloured face and a mouth dripping with blood. I longed for daylight, and yet I knew that when the morning light came I would have to meet the beast face-to-face. There were tales that said ghosts and devils faded away as morning broke, but I was sure that this creature was too terrible a thing that dawn’s light would have no effect upon it. It was my destiny, I was certain of it, to see this creature, and a great chill once again seized my body. My teeth began to chatter, and every part of my body shivered as a cold, damp sweat burst upon my brow. In response I grabbed at a shawl, which lay upon a nearby chair, and I wrapped it around me. My movement, of course, caused that demoniacal moan to return and the chain to clank again, causing all hopes to dissipate. Time flew by quickly, and I sat there rigid and silent. I may have even slept for a time. I remember the cold grey light of another winter’s morning on my face, and it gradually stole around the small, dark room from between the heavy curtains that hung at the window.

“Shuddering with great fear I turned to see what horror had plagued my night. In the grey light of that winter dawn I saw that the being was not a ghost, a dream, or hallucination brought on by fear. There it lay on the bed, with its grim head on the pillow. I could not tell if it was a man, or a corpse that had arisen from its grave to await the demon that brought it to life. It was a gaunt, gigantic form, wasted to a skeleton, half-dressed, covered with dirt and clotted blood, its huge limbs flung upon the bed, and its shaggy hair streaming over the pillows like a lion’s mane.

“This creature’s wild, hideous face was turned toward me. Its features were human, covered in a horrible mask of mud and half-dried blood, while the expression it bore was a brutish and savagely fierce one, its white teeth visible between parted lips in a malignant grin. The creature’s tangled hair and beard were crumpled together, and there were scars disfiguring the brow. Around the creature’s waist was a ring of iron, to which was attached a heavy but broken chain that was undoubtedly the chain that I had heard clanking. I noticed that part of the chain was wrapped in straw to prevent it rubbing against the creature. There were marks of the chains on the creature’s wrists, and the bony arm that protruded through one tattered sleeve was scarred and bruised. His feet were bare, and cut by stones and briers, with one foot wrapped in a kind of rag bandage. The lean hands, one of which held my sleeve, were armed with talons like those of an eagle. In that moment I knew that I was at the mercy of a madman. It would, perhaps, have been better if this had been a ghost that merely scares people, rather than a beast that tears a quivering body limb from limb. I was now sure that this was a pitiless brute which had no heart that could be softened, and whose intentions no plea could change. My terror was complete as I looked upon those blood covered fingers and wolfish jaws that, along with its face, were smeared with blackening blood!

“In that moment the mystery of the slain sheep had been solved. The manner in which they had been mangled and torn apart, the print of a naked foot, and the broken chain link found near the slaughtered animals were now fully explained. This creature had escaped from some institution, where his wild rages had been bound up. How had this grisly creature broken its chains? It must have been a mighty rage that gave him the strength to escape those prison bars, most likely he was encouraged by the scars whippings he had received from his guardians. Now this creature was loose, free to play the tortured brute his captors had made him. Was I already caught in his clutches, to be his next victim? I felt overcome by a terrible sickness and was struck dumb by the total fear in which I was encased. All I could do was to wait until the moment when he should open his eyes and be aware of my presence.

“Something told me that the creature was not yet aware of my presence. He had used the room as a lair in which he could hide and, after killing and gorging himself on the sheep, he wearily flung himself down on the bed to sleep. He had not expected to find any other person in that room and had, therefore, no reason to suspect that he was not alone. Even when he grasped my sleeve it was, most likely, an action carried out in his sleep, just his unconscious moans and laughter.

“Time was passing and I was sure that the entire house would be awake soon. Someone would be sent to awaken me and would awaken the creature. Then I heard a light footstep outside the door, which was followed by a quiet knock. There was a pause and the knock was repeated, only more loudly on this occasion. In that moment I saw the creature stretch his limbs, uttering a moaning cry, and he slowly opened his eyes. And as his eyes opened they met mine. There was another knock, and I worried that the door would open, the grim creature would be seen, and bring about a catastrophe.

“There was wonder and surprise in those wild, bloodshot eyes as I saw him stare at me half vacantly. In an instant I could see a murderous demon begin to peep from those hideous eyes, while its lips to part in a sneer, and its wolf-like teeth bared themselves. My fear, however, now gave me a new and desperate composure that I had not felt before. I stared at the glare of those terrible eyes, remaining steady, undaunted, and motionless. Those dreadful eyes began to sink, as if from shame, as he moaned and his shaggy head drooped between his gaunt, squalid hands.

“Seizing my chance I jumped to my feet and, with one spring, reached the door, which I tore open and, with a shriek, rushed through. As I caught the girl by the arm I screamed at her to run for her life, and rushed through the corridor, and down the stairs. Maura’s screams filled the house as she fled at my side. Then I heard a long-drawn, raging cry, the roar of a wild animal robbed of its prey, and I knew what was behind me. I never turned my head to check, preferring to run as fast as I could. It seemed to be only seconds before I was in the hall, and all around me there was a rush of many feet. There was a cacophony of many voices, brutal yells, swearing, heavy blows, and I suddenly fell to the ground crying out, “Help me!”

“I awoke from a delirious trance and there were kind faces all around my bed, and I saw the loving looks from all who were there, but I fainted once again. I did not recover for a long time afterward, and was nursed tenderly through this period. When I awoke, the pitying looks of those who cared for me made my body tremble. Although I asked for a mirror on many occasions it was denied me, but I prevailed. A mirror was finally brought, and I saw that all of my youth was gone from me in one fell swoop. The glass showed a livid and haggard face, blanched and bloodless, with ashen lips, wrinkled brow, and dim eyes. There was nothing of my former self reflected back to me. My rich dark hair was now as white as snow, and in one night it was as if I had aged fifty years. My nerves, too, never recovered after that dire shock, and my life was blighted to the extent that my lover abandoned me.

“I am old now and very much alone. My sisters wanted me to live with them, but I chose not to sadden their happy homes with my ghostly face and dead eyes. Roger, meanwhile, married another and he has been dead for many years now. As for me, my sadness is almost over and I am near the end of my life. I have not been bitter or hard, but I cannot bear to see many people, and I am probably best alone. The wealth left to me by Lady Hurst is doing whatever good that it can do. After all is said and done, what need do I have of wealth, being the shattered wreck of a woman that was left by that one night of horror!

The Christmas Horror II

Part II

XMAS 3The room that I was now given was a dim little triangular room in the west wing of the house. It could only be reached by crossing the ‘picture-gallery’, or by climbing a little flight of stairs which led directly upward from the low-browed arch of a door that opened into the garden area. There was one more room on the same landing, but it was used mainly to house broken furniture, old toys, and bits of timber that had accumulate over the years. As for the room in which I was to sleep for the next few nights there were tapestries on the wall, with old, faded green velvet curtains, , fresh clothes on the bed, which had been hurriedly made, and quite oddly a new carpet. The furniture in the room was half old and half new, and on the dressing-table stood a very old oval mirror, in a frame of black ebony. It is many years ago now, but my memory of that night is so good that I will never forget one detail of it.

“Every Christmas several local girls were hired to act as maids for the guests that had been invited to our home. That short winter’s day had drawn to a close and the maids busied themselves with the large number of guests, who were very much looking forward to a Christmas feast and party. A large variety of traditional yuletide foods was served to them and, after dinner, a large number of guests gathered together in the huge drawing-room, in which a great wood-fire blazed in the ornate marble hearth. Among the crowd were, of course, the old, hard-riding, hard-drinking men of the fox-hunting clique, mumbling to each other over their port in the dining-room, and father was obliged to remain with them. The ladies and all the younger gentlemen, in the meantime, were all together in the drawing-room. Some of these had been invited to spend the night at our house, while others would have to make their own way home in the early hours, navigating narrow, dark and lonely country roads.

“Roger was at the gathering, of course, and he sat by my side. It was well known by everyone that we were engaged and were only waiting until the spring came so we could marry. My sisters were not very far away, and they seemed to have found handsome men whose hearts were very responsive to them. I could see the eyes of those men sparkle and soften as they met these young, attractive women. They were full of the joys of youth, innocent and very loving young ladies to whom the young gentlemen wanted to converse.

“The drawing room was large and lofty, with an arched roof that had somewhat sombre character, caused by the polished black oak features. On the walls hung ornate mirrors and many beautiful paintings, and the room was filled with tasteful furniture, a marble chimney-piece, and a large, colourful carpet. Many lights were burning, but in a forlorn hope of brightening the dark walls and roof. But, the black oak just appeared to ingest the rays of light like the mouth of a huge cave. A searchlight might have had serious difficulty in giving that room a cheerful glow of a modern drawing room. The gloomy richness of the panels, however, matched well with the ruddy gleam from the enormous wood-fire in which, crackling and glowing, lay the mighty Yule log.

“There was a blood-red lustre from the fire, reflected off the walls and roof. I was with a large group of the young people gathered around the antique hearth in a wide circle. The light from the fire, candles, and bulbs fell upon each of our faces though not on all equally, for some preferred to stay in the shadow of another. I remember still how tall, manly and handsome Roger looked that night. He was at least a head taller than any other person in the drawing room, and full of high spirits and fun. I must admit that I too was in the highest of spirits, and the rest the rest of our company joined in our joyous mood. All, that is, except for one.

“Lady Hurst was dressed in grey silk and was wearing a quaint head-dress. She was sitting in a big, comfortable armchair, facing the fire, very quiet, with her hands and her sharp chin propped on a sort of ivory-handled stick that she used because she was lame. All the while the old woman was peering at me with half-closed eyes. She was a small, old, and had very delicate features. The grey silk dress, her spotless lace, old-fashioned jewellery, and her overall neatness in appearance, were well suited to the intelligent face, with its thin lips, and eyes of a piercing black that were undimmed by age. But, in spite of my high spirited mood, those eyes made me feel uncomfortable as they appeared to follow my every movement around the room. Still, I tried hard to be both merry and happy, even to the point where my own sisters began to wonder what come over me. my ever-ready mirth, which was almost wild in its excess. Nevertheless, Lady Hurst’s eyes did make a disagreeable impression upon me and others quickly began to notice her scrutinising, but they put it down to her eccentricity.

“That disagreeable impression lasted only a few moments I was more pleasantly distracted. My aunt now began to take part in the conversation that was happening and we found ourselves listening to a weird legend. The old lady was a good teller of stories, and one tale would, naturally, lead to another.

“Everyone in the room was called upon to contribute to the entertainment, and each story contained some form of demonology and witchcraft. It was, after all, Christmas and the season for such tales to be told. The old drawing room, with its dusky walls was the perfect place to relate stories like these. The huge logs were crackling in the hearth and burned with a warm glow. The blood-red glare of the ‘Yule log’ reflected on the faces of storyteller and listeners alike, on paintings and the holly wreaths wrapped about their frames. It is no wonder, in the shimmering lustre of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels that the ghost and goblin stories took on a life of their own. As the tales unfolded the blood of the more timid grew chill and curdled. They felt their flesh creep while their hearts beat irregularly. The young ladies peeped fearfully over their shoulders and huddled close together like frightened sheep, believing that some impish and malignant face was cackling at them from the dark corners of the old room.

“By degrees my high spirits began to die out, and I started those childish tremors that I long thought I had left behind. I listened intently to each story as it was told, but I never asked myself if I believed in the authenticity of such dismal tales. A fear grew on me, like a child left alone in the nursery and menaced by variously shaped dark shadows. I am sure that most of ladies that were present in the room, both young and middle-aged, were affected in a variety of ways by the wild and fantastic characters in these tales.  Those fears and tremors would die out with the first light of a new day, when the bright sun would shine again on the frost covered grass and tree branches and was reflected by the rich red berries and glossy green spiked holly leaves. This form of entertainment soon ended, however, as my father and the older men returned into our midst. No one was courageous enough to relate such tales when these hard-headed, unimaginative men, returned, because they scorned such idle legends and superstitions.

“The previous quiet that had prevailed now disappeared, to make way for quite a bit of stir and bustle. There was tea, coffee, and other refreshments being served as some played piano and others sang. Roger and I sang a duet together. He had a very fine voice and good musical skills that carried me through the song. Surprisingly my singing was praised for its power and pathos. At the same time, I heard one lady say to another that I was by far the cleverest of my father’s daughters, as well as being the prettiest. Such compliments, however, did not make me vain since there was absolutely no competition between myself and my sisters. Roger whispered some soft, loving words in my ear as he put on his coat and got into the taxi to bring him home. It was now time for shawls, coats and other apparel to be called for as various vehicles rolled up to the porch of the house, and the guests gradually began to make their way home. At last there was no one left in the house but those who were staying the night there. Then I noticed my father, with a look of great annoyance evident on his face.

“”I have just been told a very strange story,” I heard him say, “One of the tenant farmers has just informed me that we have lost four of best ewes that we have been rearing on his land. It was that new flock that arrived at the end of October and the poor man says that they have been killed in a very strange way, with their carcasses having been torn to pieces and horribly mangled.”

“There was a collective sound of shock in the room when this news was revealed. Some of the younger men suggested that the culprit could very well have been a vicious dog. “It would seem so,” said father, “it would appear to be the work of a very vicious dog, and yet there is no dog fitting that description in this area. There are only sheepdogs and sporting dogs, all of which are well secured in yards. But, the sheep have been gnawed and bitten, because they show the marks of teeth distinctly. Some creature has done this thing, and torn those bodies apart like a wolf would. The mystery is that very little, or no, flesh has been taken from any of the bodies and that the attack was apparently made just to suck the blood from the sheep.”

“Heavens above!” was one excited cry when this news was revealed. Then one of the men recalled having heard that dogs could become addicted to sheep- killing and even wipe out an entire flock. “They say that the sight that is left to us is one of complete wantonness, scarcely waiting even a moment to taste a single morsel of flesh.”

“My father shook his head. “I also have heard of such cases,” he said, “but in this case I think that this might be the work of some unknown enemy. The teeth of a dog have been busy, of that there is no doubt, but these poor sheep have been mutilated in a very unusual manner that was as strange as it was horrible. The hearts of the animals have been torn out, and left several feet away from the carcasses, half- gnawed. The men, moreover, insist that they discovered the print of a naked human foot in the soft mud of the ditch. Near to it, this was found.” And he held up what appeared to be a broken link of a rusted iron chain.

“These revelations brought more exclamations of wonder and alarm, as well as many more suggestions, none of which appeared to have a bearing on the case. Then, when my father went on to say that two lambs of the same valuable breed had been killed in the same manner three days previously, there were further loud exclamations. All the while Lady Hurst had listened very calmly, but joined in none of our exclamations. Finally, she spoke to my father, “Try to remember if you have you any enemies among your neighbours?”

“My father gave her a puzzled look and frowned heavily at her. “Not one that I know of,” he replied, confident that he was a popular and kind man.

“Then, you are indeed a lucky man,” said the old woman, with one of her grim smiles.

“The hour was now very late, one-by-one we went off to our rooms to rest. Unfortunately, I was the family who was selected to escort old Lady Hurst to her room, the room I had vacated for her to use. It was not a task that I was fond of, because I did not like her much, godmother or not. My aunts, however, insisted that I should ingratiate myself with a woman who had as much money as she had, in case she might leave to a favourite such as might become. The old lady hobbled up the broad oaken stairs using both my arm her ivory crutch as props. When we reached the door to the room I opened it and led her into the brightly furnished room, which had a warm fire, glowing in the hearth. “This is a very nice room, dear,” she said as she looked around her new surroundings, “I should thank you, since I have been told that you have given it up to me.”

“All I could do was to smile at her compliment. “But, My dear,  I sure you’ll be sorry for your generosity to me, when you consider the strange bedchamber that you have been given, especially after all those ghost stories that were told. Yes?” the old lady added. I simply shrugged this off, telling her that I didn’t believe in such things.

“Where have they put you, child?” she asked, “in some little mouse-hole in the turrets, or in a glory hole somewhere else to sleep among the discarded things of the house. You need not try to be so brave, for I can hear your heart pounding with fear at this moment. I don’t think should be alone tonight.”

“Calling up every ounce of my pride, I tried to laugh off her doubts about my courage. Deep inside my own mind, however, I realised there was quite a lot of truth in what she had said. “Is there anything more that I can get for you, Lady Hurst?” I asked her, while trying to trying to pretend to yawn in the hope that she would see that I was already very sleepy.

“There was to be no such luck for me, because the old woman’s eyes stared directly at me. “You know my dear, I rather like you,” she said, “I also liked your mother well enough before she treated me so shamefully about the christening dinner. Now, dear, I know you are frightened and fearful, and if some bird should even flutter at your window to-night, it just might drive you into hysterics. There is a lovely little sofa-bed over there which can be quickly made up for you, and you can sleep there snugly, under the old witch’s protection. Rest assured no creature will harm you, and no one will be any bit the wiser, or mock you for being afraid.” It was my chance to accept her kind offer, and if I had only known what would happen I might have said “Yes”. Unfortunately, none of us can see into the future with any sense of certainty.XMAS 3

 

The Christmas Horror I

Part I

XMAS 1I would like to relate here a tale of horror that occurred over one hundred years ago to a family, for whom members of my family worked. Those directly affected by the events of that Christmas season openly spoke about them to my distant relations, who recorded them and their story is related here as a warning to us all.

“I was only nineteen years of age when an incident occurred that, unfortunately, has thrown a dark shadow across my life since that time. My days and my years have dragged by since that time, and I have been worn out by it all. In the years before the incident I was a young and happy teenager, and much loved by my parents. I was once very much complimented on possessing a fine complexion and very attractive features. Now, when I look at myself in a mirror, my eyes are filled with the reflection of an old, haggard woman, with ashen coloured lips and a face that has the look of death about it.

“Despite what you might think, I am not complaining or lamenting the fact that I have grown old. But, it was not simply the passing of years that has brought me to such a sorrowful condition, a wreck of my former self. If it had been this alone, in fact, I could have accepted the result more cheerfully, in the knowledge that we all must grow older. In my case, however, it was not the natural progress of passing years that actually robbed me of my bloom of youth, of the hopes and joys of my life, and causing the heartbreak that would leave me doomed to suffer a lonely old age. Although I try hard to be patient with my lot, the concerns and worries of life are like a heavy weight, bearing me down. My heart is completely shattered, empty of any emotion, and so weary of life that I now long for the peace of a death that comes so slowly to those who pray for it.

“Your appetite has probably been whetted now to discover what terrible event has brought me to this condition. The time has come for me, then, to try and relate that terrible event in my life, exactly as it happened. Even though the event which blighted my life occurred many years ago, I cannot forget even the smallest detail of that time.  That incident in my life has been placed into my brain and my heart as if seared there by the heat of a red-hot branding iron. Every millisecond of that time I can see in the wrinkles that cover my brow, and in the whiteness of my dying hair. In my youth that same hair was a glossy brown once, and it shone brightly with the life that was in it and within me.  But my hair did not gradually change from brown to grey, or from grey to white in any natural manner. It was not at all like the hair of my friends whose later years are comforted by the love of their children and grandchildren. You must wonder if I envy them and, in many ways, I do. But, I admit this only as a means to point out to you the difficulty that I have in telling my story is due entirely to the fact that I remember the event too well. Even as I begin to write these things down, however, my hand begins to trembles, and my head begins to swim with faintness. There is a great sense of true horror that takes a grip of my being, pulling me back into a long-remembered terror. Despite all of these things I have been persuaded to grit my teeth and complete this record of that horror, which I have been through.

“At the time when my story begins, I was the young heiress to my family’s substantial fortune. My father was a wise and clever businessman, who had used his talents to gather a large amount of wealth about him. But, although he never showed any disappointment to us, there was very little doubt that he did not have a son to inherit what he had built. Instead, my parents had given life to three daughters, of whom I was the youngest, and we would each share equally in the wealth that our father would pass on to us.

“Being a youthful nineteen years old girl, I spent no time at all on my future inheritance because all my needs were so well taken care of. I was healthy at that time, young and in love, all of which made me feel quite indifferent toward other things. Of course, we three sisters knew that we were heiresses, but I do not think Lucy and Minnie were made any happier or prouder because of that fact. We all had everything that we needed, and life was good.

“Roger, who was the love of my life, did not take an interest in me only because of the money that I would inherit. This was sorely proven to me when, after the terrible event that overcame me, he abandoned me. It is, perhaps, the one thing that I can be truly thankful for, even in my lonely old age. He didn’t stay with me for the money unlike so many ‘gold-digging’ men would have. Now, in lonely old age, I can be happy in the knowledge that I was loved, and that in itself has prevented me from going mad through all the many weary days and nights.

“The house in which we lived was an old Tudor-style mansion, and my father was the type of person who would not tolerate any change in the structure. Like an old castle, the house had numerous turrets, battlements and gable walls remained. The old fashioned windows with their quaint lozenge-shaped panes of glass set in lead were as they had been three hundred years previously.

“Attached to the house there was a large area of deep, thick coniferous woodland, bordered by a slow flowing stream. All this land stretching from the house was owned almost entirely by my father, and was inhabited by good-hearted and hard-working tenant farmers. These countryfolk were steeped in ancient ideas and traditions, and it was within this superstitious atmosphere that we were reared as children. We constantly heard tales of horror, fables and legends of dark deeds done in olden times. We were fascinated by such stories, and we marvelled at the descriptions of creatures and spirits that were said to inhabit our world.

“Our mother had died when we were young, leaving our father a widower with three girls to care for. He was kind and loving to us in his own way, but he was very much absorbed in the day to day affairs of his business enterprises. I effect, there was no person who could control the flow and content of the traditions and superstitions that we were exposed to, and like sponges our innocent soaked them all up. But, all children eventually grow up and there came a time when ghostly tales gave way to dances, dresses and potential life partners. It was at a large ball held by a neighbouring judge that I first met Roger, who was destined to be the love of my young life. As I have said, I am sure that he loved me with every beat of his heart and, even in the times of my grief and anger, I have never doubted this fact. We also blessed by the fact that his father and mine approved of our growing attachment. Today, I can look back upon those happy days as being something of a beautiful dream that I have experienced. But, change was to come to me, and bright and happy days of youth came to an end as blight and sorrow took a grip of my life.

“Christmas was always a joyful and a hospitable time in our home, and among the neighbours that surrounded us. In our house we played all the traditional games and maintained all the old family customs and frolics that were so much a part of celebrating this great feast. The manor, as usual, was filled to capacity with a variety of guests, for whom there was just about enough sleeping accommodation. There were several narrow, dark rooms available in the turrets of the house. We were once told that they had provided, at one time, good shelter to many noble gentlemen in days gone by. But, to us they were nothing more than mere pigeon coops. This Christmas, however, they were to be allotted to those visitors who were bachelors, after having been empty for over a hundred years.

“Every spare room in the house and its wings of the hall were occupied that night, and those who had brought servants were lodged at the gate-house and the farm. But, the unexpected arrival of an elderly relative immediately caused an awful commotion and the drawing up of new accommodation plans. Months before Christmas, this elderly relative had been invited to the celebrations, but she had never announced her intention to accept the invitation. When she arrived, therefore, may aunts, who were the chief organisers, panicked and went about the house wringing their hands and wondering what they could do.

“Lady Hurst was a woman of some note and some consequence within our family. She was a distant cousin of ours, but had been very cold toward us for quite a number of years, because of some affront or slight that she alleged was shown to her on the last occasion that she visited our home. At seventy years old, Lady Hurst somewhat infirm, quite rich, and very testy. Her last visit to us was at the time of my christening and I was given the honour of having her as my godmother. Although, in the last number of years you would never have thought that she held such a position in my life and, as a result, I did not expect any kind of an inheritance from her if and when she passed away

“My Aunt Margaret had begun to panic when she saw Lady Hurst arrive unexpectedly.  “We have no room! No room!” she said excitedly. “Isn’t this just our luck? The turret rooms are certainly not suitable, but where can we put her. She is Rose’s godmother, and she’s as rich as Croesus. After all these years of staying away from here, she comes back today and not a room available to her. What can we do?”

“My aunts could not surrender their rooms for the comfort of Lady Hurst, because they had already given them over to some of the invited married guests, who had already arrived. They could not approach my father and ask him to give up his room to the old woman. My father was, I can assure you the most hospitable of men, but he suffered greatly from rheumatoid arthritis to the extent that he was virtually incapable of walking normally. My aunts would not dared ask him to move rooms for they knew the man would have rather have lain on broken glass than sleep in a bed other than his own. Finally, it was I who settled the problem by giving up my room, though I was not exactly happy at having to do so. In fact, I surprised myself by feeling so selfish and especially when a trifling sacrifice on my part would make an old and infirm lady comfortable.

“My momentary selfishness annoyed me somewhat, because I was young, healthy and strong. The weather was not cold for the time of the year and, even though it was Christmas, there was no snow on the ground and the dark moist clouds overhead did not appear to be ready to unload any. But, I did do the generous thing and surrendered my room to Lady Hurst. My sisters laughed, and made fun of me for trying to wake his impression on my godmother.

“”Maybe she’s a fairy godmother, Rose,” said Mary, “and you know she felt slightly insulted at the time of your christening, and she had left the house swearing that one day she would have her revenge. Now, here she is! She is coming back to see you and I hope she brings some golden gifts with her.”

“In all honesty I thought little of Lady Hurst, or even her golden gifts. In fact, I cared very little for the fortune gathered by this elderly woman, which my aunts talked about all the time. But, since that time, I have wondered if I had shown some obstinacy and refused to give up my room to Lady Hurst, would my life have been much different. If I had not surrendered the room then Lucy or Mary would have had to offer and then suffered the horror that I met. My heart is still torn when I asked myself, “Would it have been better if the horror did fall on someone else rather than me?”