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Echoes of Hell Corner

You can find a downloadable version of this story here: (.PDF)





A full yellow moon cloaked in translucent clouds hung above the parish of Inkpen. There, amid the fields of verdant green lied a village called Hell Corner. In that village, there was a mansion, it had two floors and had overgrowth covering its walls on four sides. The night was quiet, aside from the wails coming from outside, from the darkness. These shrieking noises forced Mr Greimm to turn on almost all of the lights in his Hell Corner mansion, possibly out of fear. His elderly poor health exemplifying itself in painful coughs was a reminder to him of how much he had lost, whether it be material or ideal. Inside his home, paintings of rolling hills and forests decorated the walls in the hallways and rooms, while a pair of armoured knights stood vigil by the front doors; Hollow but solid.

He bravely investigated the source of the noises himself by peering outside a window on the first floor until a knock at the front door shook him down. Shortly after getting back up, he realised that hope and salvation finally arrived.

The past few days were so dreadful with coincidence, most of his staff ran away in fright. All except Abby, his most loyal and trusted maid. Though young in age she had such beauty that his heart couldn’t help but be pierced by it. Her milky-white skin, her long lush hair, the way she moved… There was another knock, and while he made his way to the door, he contemplated on the past months they’ve spent together: the sunny walks in the woods and the fields and the picnics and how her smile would disperse the gloom of grey clouds. A third round of knocking snapped him from the past back to present.

This time the sound persisted until he struggled to pull the heavy door open, revealing outside a group of three.

One was a woman with red-hair and a rosy scent about her, called Kristin Macara. Second was a towering bald brute named Bill Craner. Third was a man that looked not much older than Kristin or Abby; Marcus O’Seal who looked dressed for a funeral with black hair, hairless chin and a black long coat stretching down below his knees.

‘You must be the private investigators?’ the old man said.

‘Spiritus Exterminatus at your service.’ Marcus replied.

The group entered the mansion and the door slammed shut behind them, sending echoes throughout the atrium. The investigators were holding boxes and bags of equipment and while they were ushered into a well-lit room, they listened to Mr Greimm’s most recent woes regarding further strange troubles, and while they began setting up a “base of operations”, as it was explained to him to be, in the dining room, he continued on his rant about the noises, the lights flicking on and off when they shouldn’t be and the shadows without sources.

Though Mr Greimm didn’t know the specifics of the technologies at the disposal of the paranormal detectives, he trusted in them despite Marcus and Kristin being relatively young—Bill was a man he could respect, only younger than himself by over a decade.

They used special cameras, heat detecting equipment and microphones in the rooms and places that he and that the staff complained about the most. These were the scenes of mostly harmless strange happenings, until recently… Mr Greimm’s office and kitchen were the main places of their focus. The kitchen was the location of the latest ghastly attack on Abby, who claimed an invisible force made her slash her wrist with a kitchen knife. Other locations include the cellar, the attic and even one of the four bathrooms. All those locations were the sightings of a woman, pale and headless, simply standing there unmoving. Until one of the maids was finally driven insane; she hijacked one of Mr Greimm’s cars in the middle of the night and caused an accident on the motorway.

When Mr Greimm finished explaining to the group what exactly was going on, the maid Abby showed herself in a robe.

She apologised for not tending to the guests earlier, and then explained she was awakened by what sounded like rats squealing in the walls of her room. Though upon inspection, there was nothing evidently wrong and nothing in the walls.

‘Upon finishing the job.’ Marcus gently touched the old man’s shoulder ‘I can expect the promised amount to be deposited into the account?’

After they agreed, Marcus told Mr Greimm and Abby not to worry and to go back to sleep. That tonight any further “weird happenings” were unlikely.

He then continued ‘If this is work of a vengeful spirit linked to the household or any item within, then we will know when and where it strikes. If the spirit is here due to external reasons, then it will only react once it is used to our presence.’

‘And when would that be?’ Mr Greimm asked.

‘We’d have to stay here all day tomorrow and wait for another night, but we’ll keep the recording equipment going just in case something happens during the day.’ he said.

***

But what Marcus actuality meant was that the new assistant, Kristin, was going to have to run around switching the batteries of their camcorders around the mansion manually. Unfortunately, the batteries used by most of their recording equipment lasted 4-5 hours, but it was critical for them to be switched correctly, as to not lose a second of recording. With electricity being a fickle thing in a haunted mansion, them simply plugging the camcorders would’ve only solved their issues until a power outage. At least that was Marcus’ reasoning.

His interests in the paranormal begun early in his childhood. His house was frequently haunted by voices and uncertain whispers. Throughout his schooling years he was followed around by a poltergeist—a noisy ghost—that threw things at the other children and that he took the blame for (this was mostly the case, mostly).

Though this meant he lived in isolation for the majority of his adolescent life, recently he became quite good at detecting people’s personalities. He could tell for example exactly what kind of person Kristin Macara was. She only begun working for Spiritus Exterminatus recently and already showed signs of capabilities he’ll certainly find useful in this field of work. They were mostly just very subtle visions of what was going to happen, but she wasn’t aware of it. At least not yet.

Bill was a stranger, rarely talked about his past or what he wanted. Marcus wouldn’t be surprised if his own father, his own flesh and blood had hired him to keep watch over the business and any mistakes he made. Though he was useful at carrying equipment, and didn’t talk much, which Marcus liked.

The clock struck 11.

Mr Greimm and Abby left the team in the dining room to their own devices.

Marcus addressed Bill and Kristin. ‘What do you think would most likely manifest itself as Mr Greimm described?’

‘A headless woman?’ Bill remarked. ‘A Dullahan fits best.’

‘What would an Irish fairy be doing in the South of England?’ Kristin asked.

‘How do we know that what the victims of the haunting see here is the truth?’

His question was met with a long silence.

‘There are many manifestations a spirit can take, not all of them human by the simple nature of their unstable state.’ he added.

The three then bickered amongst each other until they’d get into the routine of watching the sound waveforms and the video feeds on the monitor for any abnormalities. Any sign of a table moving or a book flying off the shelve or a cracking noise picked up by any microphones. But nothing happened. The footage was clear of any unusual activities. When it was necessary, Kristin would run to all the cameras and replace the spent batteries with charged ones.

‘What happens if the cameras turn off? Even for a second?’ Bill asked.

Marcus looked confused until Bill further explained that the ghost could present itself while she’s switching the batteries.

‘I chose this equipment specifically because it’s battery can be switched mid-recording without affecting the footage or the output we see on the monitors.’

‘But the batteries don’t last very long, do they?’

Marcus was getting annoyed at the sudden frequency at which Bill spoke.

‘And what if she does make a mistake,’ Bill said, ‘and whatever made the maid slash her wrists goes after her without us knowing about it?’

‘Kristin isn’t so helpless, I’m pretty sure she could scream for help if she needed to. Go check-up on her if you’re worried.’ Marcus said.

Bill hesitated, but moments later he was out of the door.

Marcus, alone in the dining room, stared at the monitor as one by one the camera feeds would get lost—switch off, represented on the monitor by utter black screens. The feed returned to normal only a moment later. He saw Kristin in the cellar, talking to someone off camera. As she stepped away from the equipment, nothing happened. Though the microphone did pick up her vulgar tongue spewing her unnecessary opinions regarding her current job.

Once all batteries were replaced, Marcus stared more at the screens, trying to focus on all five feeds at once: the office, kitchen, cellar, attic and one of the bathrooms.

He stood there in silence, every now and then peeking at the door through which Bill just stepped out of. He got bored of staring at the monitor, so he sat down on one of the chairs. He looked at his watch and saw how little time really passed. Finally, Kristin made it back and exclaimed how that was the last time she’d ever switch batteries.

‘Where’s Bill?’ Marcus asked. Kristin looked puzzled.

That was when Bill came through the doorway and closed the door behind him. Slamming it.

‘We could at least try to be quiet, guys, the client and his staff are sleeping.’ he said.

Then all of them sat around the computer monitors and stared at the video feeds and the audio waveforms, but there was no real escape from the reality of their task; to wait mostly in silence until something on the screen moved or made a sound. While there were separate monitors for each of the rooms to be viewed Fullscreen, one positive was that a spare monitor displayed all of the feeds from all the cameras at once, albeit in small squares.

On an incredibly early hour of the morning, when all was still dark outside, Abby came by with coffee for them. She saw the state of Bill and Marcus’ faces and frowned until steering her eyes to a group of chairs laid out straight next to each other, graced with Kristin’s body flat on them.

Abby suggested a guest room with a bed for her. Well, it was more like she demanded Kristin’s body be moved to one of the guest rooms.

Bill stayed to watch over the footage while Marcus followed Abby down a labyrinth of dark corridors and hallways, on his back was a sleeping snoring eye sore.

They made it to the guest room and Marcus put the dead-weight down on the bed. He couldn’t help but stare when Kristin mumbled something about cigarettes and dead friends. Abby showed Marcus back to the dining room where Bill struggled to hold his head in his hands leaning over the table.

‘No not now!’ Marcus pushed the brute gently.

‘I wasn’t sleeping.’ he said.

Abby left them when their conversation died and silence overwhelmed the room once more.

***

Struck by dark thoughts, Kristin tossed and turned in the bed. Black clouds overhead spawned out of thin air while her feet felt the caressing stroke of something that she was too afraid to look down on. Her heart beat faster until she could feel it pounding across her ribcage.

She woke up in a pool of sweat to a muffled noise of chalk scratching against blackboard.

With hands clutching her ears she stepped out of the bed. She noticed she was stepping on the floor carpeted in cigarette butts. The remaining ash stuck to her feet. She jumped out of the room into a long black hallway. The scratching subsided only for another sensation to cause her body to tremble; she felt a wetness drip down her spine from the ceiling. When she looked up, she saw a large mouth shrouded in black smog with knife like white teeth and two red flames where eyes would be had it been a human face.

It covered her in saliva that burned her skin until a flash of light blinded her.

She was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall drenched in her own sweat.

‘Kristin?’ she heard a familiar voice.

‘What happened?’ it asked.

She didn’t reply, instead shook frantically. Her sight came back to her when the flashlight was put on the floor. The source of the voice was Marcus. Behind him Mr Greimm.

Mr Greimm turned on the lights of the hallway and stared in horror at the girl.

‘What happened to her?’ he asked.

‘I’d venture to guess, a nightmare.’ Marcus replied.

The sweat cumulated on her shiny forehead, almost creating a perfectly reflective surface. Marcus touched it and was surprised just how hot it was.

‘We need cold water!’

Mr Greimm and Marcus took her to the bathroom, ran her a cold bath and left her alone to wash herself after she repeatedly said that she was ‘all right.’

Before entering the water, she stripped off the sweat drenched clothes and tossed them to the side.

‘How are you feeling?’ Marcus asked from behind the door with a hint of care in his voice.

She replied with a simple ‘better. I’ll be out in a minute.’

When she cooled down, she let down the cold water and ran hot water in order to have a proper bath to alleviate the body odour that stuck to her like muck. She overheard Marcus telling Mr Greimm that there was nothing to worry about.

‘Is this because of the ghost?’ the old man asked.

‘She’s just having a nervous breakdown remembering her university debt.’ Marcus replied, struggling to keep his voice in a monotone pitch.

‘Is there anything else you’d need? I would like to go to bed now.’ the old man sighed.

Marcus assured him again that everything was really fine.

That’s all Kristin managed to hear through the door before sliding under the water and relieving her mind of worries. She washed her body with the most well sculptured soap she had ever seen of, in a shape of a seal lion. After feeling refreshed she let the still warm water down and dressed in spare clothes she found in a drawer that most likely belonged to Abby but fit her never-the-less.

The water that was still in the bath made weird bubbling noises. Upon closer inspection she saw the water bubbles coming from the drain. Almost immediately water poured back up and filled the bath.

This water wasn’t clear but green and brown in mud. She scurried around the bathroom silently, searching for a plunger. She resorted to flipping through containers of bleach and other cleaning liquids until she finally found it. Plunging it in the bath now overflowing with dirty water, her hands came in contact with what felt more like sand than anything else.

The scratching of the sand-feeling water cut her hands up like knifes until she could no longer handle the pain. She cried and speedily took her hands out of the water.

***

The hallway was now only lit by a single lamp on a small table standing against the wall. On the other side of the door to the bathroom, Marcus stood with arms crossed leaning against the wall. He saw a large man, Bill, walk out of the shadows towards him.

‘Nothing’s on the video or sound.’ he said.

‘Nothing just scared the hell out of Kristin.’ he mumbled to himself, then uncrossed his arms and rested them in his trousers pockets, ‘and who’s monitoring the “Nothing’s” now?’

Ignoring Marcus’ remark, Bill smirked: ‘There is definitely something here, though it may be more than a Dullahan—’ a scream of a woman came from the atrium.

Marcus and Bill rushed there to find Abby fallen on the floor with a bone sticking out of her leg and a strawman hanged from the ceiling.

She still cried in pain by the time the ambulance came by and took her away.

‘Now what, my last and only maid is gone!’ said Mr Greimm, visibly unsatisfied with the job the ghost hunters were doing.

‘Look sir, our equipment had not picked up any evidence of paranormal—’

‘So what?!’ the old man interrupted Marcus.

‘Can we address the straw-man in the room?’ Bill said.

‘Clearly it was the reason why Abby fell, but who set it up?’ Marcus looked at Mr Greimm.

‘Why would I want to scare my own maid? It must’ve been the ghost!’ hearing this from the old man, Marcus laughed.

‘Or it was one of you!’ he pointed at Bill, then at Marcus.

‘Marcus…’ Bill stared up at the strawman.

‘You’re the one who called us in, asked for our help, now you think we want to harm you?’ Marcus ignored Bill.

‘Mar—’

‘Not now Bill!’

‘And you have the cheek to accuse honest folk like us! How dare you sir!’ Marcus raised his voice and took a step towards Mr Greimm.

‘Marcus! The strawman is gone!’ Bill snapped.

The atrium went silent until Marcus suggested Mr Greimm find a hotel and stay there for the night.

‘Now you want me to leave? But you said—’

‘I underestimated the possible danger, whatever haunts your home got used to our presence. It is no longer passive. It seems.’

Mr Greimm relented and agreed to leave for the rest of the night—however little of it remained.

‘At this point I won’t be able to sleep anyway, I’ll come back at 9am. I want answers on what it is or else I’m calling the police and letting them deal with this! Scandal or no, it would be better than this!’

Those were the words Mr Greimm uttered before he drove away in some expensive sports car.

‘How likely is it we’ll get paid?’ Marcus asked Bill.

Bill simply shrugged and went back to the dining room.

Alone in the atrium Marcus pondered on the hopeless state of this case. What they had witnessed must’ve been some sort of spectral entity, though in the limited light it almost looked like a scarecrow made of straw… He tried to recall exactly what he saw, how it formed and dispersed right above their heads. He dismayed at any and all of this not being captured on their equipment. No cameras in the atrium that would finally end his quest of proving his father wrong and to hush any doubt about the existence of Paranormal.

Then he heard Bill scream from the dining room, their base of operations. He screamed out Marcus’ name and a word ‘cellar’. Could it be that the ghost finally revealed itself on camera?

***

Kristin imagined her hands would be covered in cuts and blood. Just before taking them out of the water she felt a heat that would have surely burned her hands. Though when she looked, there were no signs of any burns. The dirty water that overflowed the bath soon went down through the drain. Everything then became like nothing strange had ever happened. The bath was clean and there were no signs of the mess she made searching for the plunger.

At that moment a feeling most peculiar swept her. It was that of peace and a kind of playful joy she hadn’t felt since she was a child. A child who couldn’t wait to dance in the gold leaves of autumn… That memory and the whirl of leaves flashed before her.

Screeching and almost unhinging, the bathroom door swayed open with a force pushing it back and forth constantly until it finally opened fully. Before her eyes appeared a white lamb standing in the doorway.

It looked at her and then ran into the shadows of the hallway. She stepped out of the bathroom but was more inclined to walk back to the dining room where she thought everyone else were.

Until she heard the shriek of the lamb followed by a sound of flesh pierced by some kind of sharp object. Silence ensued.

Her feet moved away from the direction she wanted to go and towards the lamb. Each step down the dark hallway made an echo until a chill harassed her spine. All senses warned her of something bad being down that hallway, but her curiosity over-ruled any sensibility with regards to walking alone in pitch-black corridors.

Being in so much darkness she bumped into something and heard a shatter of glass beneath her feet. That was when a single light at the end of the hallway shone through a doorway in the distance. She did not know what could be there. Soon she saw that there was a mirror at the end of the hallway.

In a reflection of the mirror she saw a dark figure of herself before entering a well-lit bedroom. What lured Kristin to this place was the light. What made her stay was a soft wailing of what she imagined must’ve been a beautiful woman. Reality was quite different when she saw a decapitated head encased in a glass container on one of the shelves. Its devilish grin ran literally from ear to ear while its eyes darted about the room looking for something. The eyes fixated on Kristin and followed her every movement.

Kristin got closer to the head and it stared straight into her eyes until she realised the head wasn’t looking at her. It was looking at something behind her.

She turned back and saw a nearly naked headless monster in a figure of a woman. The bloody red gore crowned the top of its neck while its skin was the colour of a sheet of paper. Its belly was swollen with a red lump protruding from inside of it.

Its movements were erratic, constantly switching between sluggish and rapid speeds and were indistinct of possibilities that human joints allowed.

Kristin took the glass container and threw it at the Dullahan. The container went straight through the headless abomination and smashed into a wall.

Amongst the broken glass she expected the head with its creepy eyes to look at her and scream. But there was nothing but broken glass on the floor. The creepy body of the ghost was gone too. She looked at the king-sized bed, then the pictures on the side tables.

There were pictures of Mr Greimm when he was young, doing things rich people would often do with their time and limitless amounts of money: yachting, mountain-hiking, fox hunting, mountain, award receiving and ribbon cutting… In all of them the man, their client, had a sensible look of maturity drawn on his face. On her way out she noticed one photo different to others. He—the age he was now—with Abby. This was possibly the only photo where he smiled.

Before going back into the hall, she poked her head out of the doorway and when she saw no monstrosities or heard strange sounds, she ran back to the dining room.

***

Marcus stood over Bill who, sitting down by the equipment and the monitors, replayed the relevant piece of footage.

‘Here. See?’ Bill pointed at the monitor.

He looked over at Marcus who seemed shaken up—bags under his eyes were likely due to the restless night but Bill struggled identifying that slight gleam in his eye.

Kristin burst through the door and ran up to them. She wore plain white clothes she didn’t wear earlier. After her dodging his inquiries, Marcus knew something was off about her.

‘Are you sure you’re fine?’ he asked.

She nodded and looked at the monitor in silence, probably hoping Marcus would change the topic.

‘I don’t see anything.’ Marcus said, then turned his attention to Kristin and asked her about the clothes and what happened to her.

‘I saw nothing.’ she protested.

Marcus didn’t let go of the subject until she admitted she saw the Dullahan in Mr Greimm’s bedroom.

‘Why did you go to his bedroom?’ Bill asked.

Kristin changed the subject by drawing attention to the thing on the monitor.

‘Are you serious? There’s nothing there.’ Marcus pointed at the screen.

Bill and Kristin looked at each other. Then at the footage which showed a wrinkled old man in a black robe with a disjointed face and long grey hair. He just stood there in front of the camera without any movement. The sound feed let them hear what was going on over there. A faint breathing, then a quiet mumble. The old man would alternate between mumbling and breathing several times before Marcus finally had enough.

‘I don’t see it.’ he said as he walked towards the door.

‘Where are you going?’ Bill asked.

‘To the cellar. If I can’t see it through the camera, maybe I’ll see it with my own eyes.’

Bill followed Marcus out of the room, leaving Kristin alone.

The two walked down the dark corridor until Marcus found a light switch. Upon turning the lights on, details of the walls and the ceiling Bill previously couldn’t see revealed themselves; they were white-painted plain and tall, with archways towards the ceiling whenever the corridor had doors on either side of it. Small tables and chairs decorated the floor, set up against those walls. The floor itself was partially carpeted with a fluff of red and black and white symbols that he didn’t really pay attention to.

They reached the stairway to the cellar, opposite of which there were three large windows that arched triangularly at the top. He felt a chill grasp his feet.

Marcus went down first, turning on the lights.

Bill felt his feet get heavier and heavier with each step down until finally he was down in the cellar. Looking at Marcus who neared the camera and saw what recorded on it, he trod carefully through the random junk on the floor.

‘There’s nothing on here.’ Marcus laughed. He stepped away from the camera and waved his hands around, causing the dust to fly up from the shelves and the floor and invade Bill’s nostrils.

The brute found himself sneezing. Repeatedly.

‘Maybe you should go upstairs before the ghost gets scared of getting a cold from you.’

Still sneezing, Bill went back upstairs, mumbling to himself.

‘Ghosts don’t get colds.’

Back on the first floor where the air was clean to breathe, Bill found that the lights turned themselves off. After thinking it strange, he realised that maybe the lights were on a timer. The old man hardly seemed like one to be bothered to press on and off buttons and save money on electricity. Too rich for that maybe?

He noticed that there was enough light coming in through the windows to make the place navigable. Blue light. Morning was soon upon them and he looked at his wristwatch to confirm.

That was when he heard a loud smash followed by a slam of many things against the floor coming from the cellar. Bill hurried downstairs and turned on the lights. He saw Marcus fallen in old clutter of the cellar and the camera crushed on the floor.

‘How?’

‘I underestimated the strength of those wooden panels there.’ Marcus pointed to the corner. ‘Only thing stopped me from falling in, was the trip up.’

Bill looked at the corner of the cellar, the corner covered in wooden planks unlike the rest of the stone panelled floor. There was a hole through them, caused by Marcus’ foot.

***

Marcus found a little handle bolted to the wooden planks and forced them to swing open. Below his feet there was nothing but darkness and a metallic though rusty ladder leading downward.

‘I’ll take the broken camera back to the dining room and check up on Kristin.’ Bill said, grabbing the camera.

As the brute was leaving Marcus called him a coward, but there was no reaction.

Marcus was left alone. Looking around the cellar for anything that could be of use, he found a small electric torch that flickered at first, then barely shone any light. He held it whilst climbing down the ladder.

The air stiffened before Marcus nearly fell from the furious shaking caused by his every movement. Each time his foot moved down it felt like the whole thing would break off.

About twice his height in length down, there was no more ladder to climb down to. There was a small jump he had to make before hitting the floor. A resounding clap of his shoes echoed throughout what seemed to be a cave. Rocks formed walls of the tunnel. He shone a light and saw it only went one way. He followed the path and ended up in a chamber where he saw black shackles pinned to the walls and worn out old torches. He took a crackle-black zippo lighter from the inside of his coat’s pocket and lit them. An orange blaze flickered and he turned off the electric torch to not waste batteries.

Thanks to the light from the torches he saw chains on the floor and the dark stains all over. Marcus shuddered upon coming to the realisation that this must’ve been Mr Greimm’s dungeon. As ridiculous as that sounds, the only thing that would’ve been more “stereotypical” of an old rich man with a closet full of skeletons (or an under-cellar in this case?) would be… if there were actual skeletons here. On the other side, who knows what kind of kinks the old man indulged in here, what kind of secrets these rocks were witnesses to?

Pinned to one of the walls was a photograph, trampled and full of creases. It depicted a woodland scene, with rays of the sun striking through any openings between the branches of leafy trees. He took the photo and put it in his pocket.

Moving further into the dungeon, he saw that while most shackles were rusted or grimy with mud and dirt, one of them was shiny and clean enough to be reflecting the fire from the torches. He considered that this meant they must’ve been used recently, though why? Who was tied to these? Marcus reasoned that the possible victim had their head chopped off, for some reason or another, and now it manifested itself in headless apparitions that haunted Abby and the old man… and he sighed at his baseless conjecture.

But the fact he himself never saw the same apparitions either the clients or Bill and Kristin saw, aside from the disappearing strawman, must’ve meant something. The thought of any possible significance of the spirit showing itself before Bill and everyone else, but not him was driving him to near insanity. Maybe because he was the founder of Spiritus Exterminatus, the paranormal researching company and private investigators, for which reason he felt it would be him front and centre on this case.

His emotions stirred inside him, beating themselves to get into the spotlight of his consciousness. They scathed his mind in the useless rubble that he worked so hard on walling off.

Then he realised what he was experiencing and immediately slowed down his breath. He closed his eyes and cleared his thoughts as much as he could. He imagined four winged figures with swords surround him and protecting him. Beyond the winged figures there was nothing but darkness in his mind, darkness that would consume him if he let it. If he continued down the path of emotional distress and self-pity.

Calming down, he opened his eyes and saw he was still in the chamber, surrounded by chains and the shackles.

‘You are not her.’

He felt cold air breathed down the back of his neck. When he turned towards it, he saw nothing. There was a whiff of peppermint however. He looked around until he heard sweeping of bare skin across ragged rock above his head. Instead of looking up he ran back towards the ladder. The ladder which had disappeared.

‘You are not her.’ the crackling voice repeated.

The light of the torches was dying. He tried to climb the rocky walls up to the light from the cellar. He managed to get high enough to nearly grab a wooden plank but fell after failing to reach it. The gust of air that swept across the dungeon as he fell put out the last remnants of light from the torches. Now the only light came from the cellar above his head. He considered taking his electric torch, however decided his time would be better spent in the shadows back towards the chamber he saw something move. He focused more on climbing the rocks back up. This time he managed to grab onto the ledge that was the floor of the cellar and struggled to force himself up.

One leg he managed to prop up above the floor of the cellar, but before he could lift the other leg out, he felt a tight grasp pull him down.

‘I want her.’ The voice echoed below him.

The light in the cellar switched off.

***

With a camera in hand, Bill took a peek into the dining room before entering. Through the doorway he could see something was amiss; the chairs and table were put upside down. All lights were off, but there was enough of the morning light coming from the windows that he could see the room.

Shadows of the upside-down furniture were long, but in them he saw movement. A kind of flow of dust as if a stream of water. He saw the computer intact on the floor, with the monitor set up on the desk as it should’ve been. As he got closer to it, he recognised the images on the monitors—other feeds from the cameras—and it took him several more steps to make out what were on those images; A headless woman beat by an old man draped in darkness.

The man did more things to her, horrible things which Bill couldn’t stand watching. He looked around and saw Kristin in the corner, lying down unconscious.

‘Kristin!’ he ran up to her and sat her up. Checked her wrist for a pulse and when he found it, he breathed a sigh of relief.

The door to the atrium shut close, as if the wind forced it to. Right then and there the most important thing to him was getting the girl and himself to safety, and that meant getting outside the house, into the daylight. It was strange enough to him that the ghost was active during the day, but, using his past experiences for his hypothesis the ghost wouldn’t be able to follow them outside if it was tied to the property. With Kirstin in his arms, he walked out of the dining room. Practically running across the atrium, he thought: what if the spirit was tied to the general area, not just the mansion?

His mind was a barrage of different thoughts and worries all assaulting him at once.

He couldn’t open the door with Kirstin in his arms, so he put her down onto the floor, propped up against the wall beside one of the knight armours, so that she wasn’t lying flat. Then he opened the door. But as he would lean over to pick Kristin up, the door shut itself with a great slam. On his second try, he used one of the chairs to prop it open.

He wasted no time in running out of the mansion with Kristin. As the doors closed by themselves behind him, he heard the echoes of clangs and bangs; the knights broke and pieces of their armour scattered on the floor.

He saw the sun shining through the tips of the trees that surrounded the mansion. A modern Gothic in style, in daylight the building looked more like some kind of cathedral. He took her across the long front garden and through a gate that opened as he got closer. Behind it was the van they drove in.

The dark blue van Marcus managed to get out of favours from god-knew who. With Kristin in his hands he barely opened the front doors to place her on the seat.

‘God damn it.’ he said to himself.

Those images he saw of an old man and the headless woman. The obscene things he did to her…

That was when Bill remembered an idea Marcus told him about when he first met him. The truth about majority of ghost hauntings weren’t perpetrated by what he thought as ghosts. No, the idea of a ghost in his mind was always an image of a dead person that didn’t make it to where they were supposed to and ended up stalking the mortal plain. But the truth was often much simpler than that.

He closed the door of the car and made his way back to the mansion.

***

Whispers surrounded Marcus while threats echoed in a nebulous darkness. A wind rose up and whistled through him. He shrugged in its cold impact.

He took out his electric torch. After a few flashes of light through which he saw nothing but dust, the torch died. Then, he took out his zippo lighter, his only hope of seeing anything, and flicking it the little flame was lit. Its light left much to be desired, but it was better than standing in complete darkness. He walked with caution around the chamber, still feeling the wind. He followed it, his fingers brazing against a rocky wall. The rough edges of the rocks were sharp and he cut his hand. It was a small cut but enough to cause some significant and annoying pain.

Something brushed against his back, but he refused to turn back and see what it was. Instead he touched the rocks with his free hand until one of the stones shifted under the weight of his palm. Gears were grinding somewhere and echoed throughout the chamber until a section of the wall opened up revealing another chamber with stairs going up.

The second chamber was much smaller than the first, with a circle of old wax candles on the floor.

He walked up towards the stairs until wooden planks were above his head. These wouldn’t budge open until he put away the lighter and used all of his strength. It took many times for him to finally push the planks open and see that over them was a thin layer of ground and grass. He stepped out into the light.

It was late morning and Marcus found himself in front of the mansion.

Breathing the fresh air was a nice change from the staleness of the dungeon.

He went back into the mansion through the front door.

In the atrium he saw pieces of armour scattered around the floor. In the dining room he saw a stranger scene. Chairs and tables upside-down. Their equipment was fine though it was off, unplugged and ready to be packed up. He looked up at the clock on the wall next to a window and saw the time.

A hand grabbed his shoulder.

Marcus turned around to see Kristin, and she was in her own clothes from last night, a little wrinkled but aside from that perfectly fine.

‘What is this?’ Marcus asked.

‘The whole room shook; I saw something weird.’ she told Marcus about how a headless woman showed up in front of her with an older man and that they turned the entire place that way.

‘I know what it is.’ Marcus said right before he heard Bill on the other side of the mansion shout his name.

Both him and Kirstin ran towards the screaming brute, down the hallway barely lit in sunlight.

What followed was a reunion upon which Marcus granted his insight to Kristin and Bill of the true ghost that his company, Spiritus Exterminatus were struggling with throughout the night. Hearing this news, Kristin shared her visions of the lamb and the Dullahan’s head. Then Marcus had no doubts in his mind that Mr Greimm, their client, had a lot to answer for. Money became irrelevant in the face of his discovery, in the ramifications that this could possibly amount to.

It was then they heard a car pull over at the front of the mansion.

‘Time to pack up! We’re done here.’ Marcus announced.

While Bill and Kristin went into the dining room, Marcus collided with the owner of the mansion. Mr Greimm screamed at the state of his atrium.

‘The ghost possessed the armour, there was no other way.’ Marcus explained.

The old man calmed down. ‘Have you at least figured out what it was?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’ Marcus gave a short answer.

Mr Greimm smiled for a moment but when he heard only silence, it faded.

He waited for an explanation, but Marcus instead dived into references of ghastly apparitions in many para-psychological works that influenced his theory. Marcus kept hopping from subject to subject, citing quotes and confusing the old man.

‘Before I say more, I will need to see Abby.’ Marcus could see the frustration building up into creases on the old man’s forehead.

‘T-that’s impossible.’ he said.

Mr Greimm avoided Marcus’ inquiry but that only lead him to push on until the old man revealed which hospital his maid rested in and in which room.

By the time Bill and Kristin finished packing up and loading the van, Mr Greimm leaned over to Marcus.

‘I will call the police if you talk to her! I want her safe, don’t frighten her any more than necessary with your pseudo-para-science mumbo jumbo.’ the old man said with a peppermint breath.

***

After climbing many stairs Marcus took each step quickly, pacing himself down the long corridor. White fluorescent lights shone above him. His face would be lit one moment, engulfed in shadow the next.

A nurse stopped him in his tracks. No doubt she was going to ask him what he was doing there and who was he going to see. He spoke of being family for Abby, but upon realising he didn’t even know her surname, the nurse rolled her eyes and told him to get out. Maybe if he tried harder to lie, but he felt like that would be a waste of time. Maybe he should’ve left it alone? Doubt ravaged his conviction until the nurse was distracted when another burst out of one of the rooms to the left, screaming. The room was Abby’s.

Marcus used that distraction while the nurses called the police and ran into the room.

First thing that hit his face was the strong cold wind. Hills and tiny trees of brown and green as if painted onto a canvas of bright grey sky, framed from edge to edge of the wall, such was the view from the window. His brain shivered for a moment as he saw the room empty.

He dared not to look out of the open window.





THE END

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