A Rare Thing Found By Chance
By Jordan, age 13, York, UK
The thick pea-soup fog cleared as the little wooden boat parted rifts in the murky blue water, overlapping its edges as if in a vain attempt to escape its tedious existence. A filthy black cloud rolled across the sky and a thundercrack echoed over the valley. The destination was "Serendipity", a quaint but atypical little island wedged somewhere in between England and Wales.
The dogged old fisherman scratched the rough stubble on his gnarled chin, and a skeletal hand pushed a wispy grey hair from his wrinkled forehead.
"How much longer?" Inquired a voice from the rear of the vessel, striving to be heard over the howling wind. The fisherman turned, whipping the tail of his sullied green mackintosh behind his mud-clad left leg. He looked askance, head tilted upwards in order to see from beneath the thick hood that led up from the neck of his long coat. A lightning strike lit up the sky, revealing for only a short second, the long scar that ran along his disfigured countenance, about a quarter of an inch from a glass eye whose many different shades of grey and white seemed to swirl and shift with the flashes of light. Then darkness prevailed once more and the strange character's grotesque features sunk back into their penumbrous continuation of a life trapped in the past, reminiscing on times gone by. He grunted. Then cleared his throat.
"It will take us around five and twenty minutes to reach our destination" His voice was low and husky, and one may relate it to thick, dripping honey, wrapped in a slow mesmerising motion by a delicate hand.
"But I am afraid I cannot accompany you to the island once we arrive." As the old man spoke he cast his one surviving eye over the crashing waves.
"Can't or won't?" Asked the traveller smugly, a hint of cynicism in his voice. The fisherman stopped, pulling the heavy raincoat from his head all the while, revealing the true horror of his distorted façade: The actual mutilation on his face was exacerbated some what by the sagging lines and overstated wrinkles which reminded one of passages and crescents of loose skin, providing nooks and crannies for flecks of mud and grime, creating a dirty mass which acted as a beard of brown residue. The eyelid around the glass-eye drooped quite severely and gave him a monstrous appearance; his hair-line was thin and uneven, covering his ears at the sides due to lack of care taken when cut and the long scar and bulk of his load contributed to his demonic appearance. "I have experienced evil that you could never begin to imagine. I have seen this island take in arrogant youths like you and spit them out withered old men - some never returned at all." The last part was spoken in a hushed voice, as though he had already said too much.
"I beg your pardon?"
The fisherman stood motionless, and, although the traveller could not see this, a salty tear crept down his cheek.
"Why did I have to take him with me? Oh God why?" He wailed.
"Stop sir, you make no sense. What are you trying to say?"
"It will happen to you! They will take you!" He screamed, a look of hatred on his face.
"What will? Who will take me? Sir, I can take no heed of your warnings if I do not understand them!" The fisherman thought for a moment, then spoke once more, this time more gently, in unison with the undulating waves.
"A young man once accompanied me when on a trip to the neighbouring island Serendipity. You were very much similar to him, save for one detail, he was my nephew, and what happened to him was my fault." There was a crack in his tone and the sinister implications deeply chilled the traveller. But there was some-thing strangely magnetic about this woeful old man that made the hearing of his story almost compulsive, and so the younger gentleman slithered out from his shelter and into the driving rain.
"What happened?" Asked the traveller softly, an atavistic feeling of dread drenching his soul even as he spoke.
"Go back inside, get out of the rain."
"Tell me kind sir, I beg of you, why won't you tell me?"
The fisherman looked up, his fallen face lifted, a glimmer of sadness in his eye. He began his tale.
"It was on a darkened night much like this one, a lone magpie swooped overhead and an eerie full moon seemed to sigh: What trickery the shadows played, in the night-time half-light and reflection of the ocean there seemed to be two, alas, there was only one. Jonathon bade me good night and we arranged to meet back in the same spot two days after his departure on my round trip back.
In order to reach the hamlet at the other side of the island he was to cross the hilly moors and marshy swampland, accumulating to around a fifteen-minute journey.
Now, Jonathon was not a poor man and had been extremely fortunate in acquiring his late father's heritage, but he travelled light and found it very easy to scale the moors, for his lean but sturdy frame carried him without difficulty, the encumbering double-strapped bag posing no threat to his progress. In his fascination for the oddly secluded village that stood before what appeared, from a distance, to be a large Jacobean style Manor House, he failed to notice the pair of watchful eyes that followed him intently, burning into him, deciding on his capability, his intentions and how dangerous he was to the situation on the island.
The steep slope dipped slightly before dropping into a forty-five-degree incline, following through to a downtrodden path turned spongy bog by the ominous, damned footsteps of many other travellers. There was an eerie aura about the blanket of thick mist, which carpeted the landscape, and because of this Jonathon quickened his pace, muttering to himself the illogical, irrational ridiculousness of his fear. Because of his haste he arrived at the hamlet rather sooner than expected, and when he did manage to open the rusty, Tudor style gate it took him considerable time to realise his surroundings. Fog engulfed the environment, hiding the disturbing truth of the settings. It was only when he felt a painful crack (!) on his kneecap and investigated upon its cause did he discover where he was. The large grey rock stood aslant and was strangely rounded.
Jonathon ran his fingers across its surface. "Odd." He whispered to himself, there were smooth engravings along it. He bent down to examine them, rubbing the muck away from the edges of the lettering. "Good God!" He exclaimed and fell rearward, injuring his spine on the metal straps of the leather bag. The inscription read "R.I.P". Jonathon felt no impulse to read further, for he was already aware that what was before him was a gravestone! What would a gravestone be doing here? He felt some-thing brush his neck that was hard and firm. It too, was stone. Oh no, surely not another one? Then he spotted another, and another, then another! His deduction took only seconds: He was in a cemetery!
His grisly thoughts were confirmed when a strong wind blew back the smog and revealed a costly-looking dome-like crypt. What kind of village has a graveyard leading into it? What strange place was this? What the hell was going on there? A curious rage rushed over Jonathon and he broke into a sprint, he would to get to the hamlet and demand some answers!
It was then that he fell.
Jonathon awoke to find himself trapped in darkness. He panicked for a second and tried to remember what had happened. The cemetery! The graves! Then what? He had fallen? His mind had a distinct recollection of descending into some kind of muddy hole, alas, nothing after that. His body then came to its senses and he felt soft material against his bare skin, Jonathon saw wood and draping tassels above his head, bizarre shapes and menacing images challenged him. Chinese dragons stared back into his widened blue eyes, grinning their horrendous toothy smiles, mocking him. It was dark, only soft moonlight poured through the slits of open curtain through the closed window. However, it was enough to act as a torch; the light cut through the darkness and told him that his strange resting place was a delicately intricate four-poster bed.
The room was fantastically wonderful; the furnishings were plush, with silver clasps on the oak chest of drawers, a library of first edition mathematical, scientific and geographical works, with a finely crafted crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
He sat up and found only his upper body had been stripped; his clothes had been hung at the other end of the room for him. Where was he? What had happened? He didn't have time to worry about that, he told himself. He had to get dressed and find some answers. A quick consultation of his watch told him it was about half past one in the morning. He wandered over to the window and observed the view, the hamlet!
Wherever he was it was a high place overlooking the hamlet, but from the rear! The old manor house! He was inside the old manor house! In his excitement Jonathon knocked a pottery vase from the windowsill and it crashed to the ground, smashing into a hundred tiny pieces. He froze, a groan emitted from the occupant of the next room (to the right) and Jonathon expected it to be followed by footsteps, however, it was not. He grabbed his chance and crept over to the door, took in a deep breath and yanked at the handle.
It didn't budge; he tried again, then once more with greater force, again to no avail. He started to bang at the door and rattle the knob frantically. Still nothing happened. He looked about the room for leverage, then spotted the window. It was locked, but smashed easily with the aid of a bronze rimmed picture-frame. This time the grunt from the next room was paired with a soft thump. Jonathon could hear the door opening and subtle footsteps patting against the supple hallway. He quickly mounted the windowsill and climbed through the open pane.
There was only a narrow ledge, which was falling away at the edges to withstand his weight and he thought it would give way. He told himself not to look down, but of course, the natural reaction was to ignore this advice and peer over the periphery. The ledge must have been at least three storeys up, and the sight of loose rubble hurtling to the ground and colliding with the concrete thus exploding with a fierce velocity is enough to make one queasy. As happened to Jonathon, which almost sent him tumbling to the ground and shattering as the stone did. He also narrowly missed knocking an ugly gargoyle of unbelievably bad taste from its watchful position and onto the well-trimmed flowerbed that sat directly below.
The adjacent window wasn't locked and opened with considerable ease. He lifted himself onto the sill and dropped to the carpet heavily.
The room was large and painted a morbid grey colour, adding to the already sombre feel that poisoned the atmosphere. An ominous wave of cold air drowned Jonathon, forcing him to gasp for oxygen, retching at the musty stench of the dusty room. This caused him to involuntarily seize a nearby leather-upholstered Chesterfield chair, knuckles turned to white with the sheer vigour of his clasp. But, as he did so, a solid mass of phlegmatic, viscous cobwebs attached itself to his hand, and when he looked about the walls and carpet, even in the obscurity of the night, it was plainly palpable that the room had not been in use for a long number of years;
Mould ran along the skirting board, dust plagued mirrors and picture frames and rat and mice holes were eaten away at the edges of the depressingly dull, dog-eared carpet. The room appeared to be a bedroom of some kind, although the bed was no more than a mere frame, the mattress was missing. The place seemed to be rather vacant but for a sharply decorated golden harp that sat in the corner, beautifully carved angels and cupid patterns engraved into it, however, the fourth and second strings had been stripped from their places, as if in a fit of ire the owner had destroyed the instrument, while the other end of the wall played host to a hideous dressing table, with ornate devils and blasphemous pentagrams marked around it and the mirror which sat central to the piece was broken into seven almost identical stiletto-like pieces.
"I say!" Exclaimed Jonathon, forgetting for a moment the circumstances of his situation, but why in God's name would a perfectly respectable stately home be kept in such bad condition? Then a thought struck him, the room in which he had awoken had been fairly well maintained, what if there was some-thing special about this place? What terrible atrocities could have occurred there? His train of thought was broken by the sound of shuffling from below the door, shadowy flickers dancing through the keyhole. Fear wracked Jonathon and his heart began to beat so hard that he was timorous that the thing at the other side of the door would hear it.
Glancing around for asylum or some kind of hiding places Jonathon noticed a weighty looking wardrobe. As he began to skulk towards it, he heard the rattling of keys, cursing under his breath as one entered the rusted lock.
My nephew was just inflowing into the sickeningly neglected cupboard, shielding his eyes from the filth that had layered itself around the wooden panelling as the key clicked into place.
It seemed to him that it took an age for the creaky, sticking door to swing from its hinges, although in reality it took only moments. Air rushed from his parted lips, a look of true anxiety casting a horrified expression across his pale, white face. The rotting, warped door jammed halfway, adding more tension and suspense to the affair, though really giving Jonathon more time to escape his abysmal providence. Alas, his fixation on the dilapidated, decrepit door led to his eventual downfall.
The silhouetted figure, which stood before him, was somewhat different from the malevolent thing that he had seen in his mind's eye: Instead of a monstrous, hideous, evil being which loomed over the room with vindictive, beady eyes, it was something rather dissimilar: The bent frame and crooked carriage gave an impression of inhumanity, the frail body leaning slightly to the right. Candle in hand, and a grand, scarlet robe dragging a considerable number of feet behind its owner. Only the outline could be made out, the shadowy flicker of the tiny flame shedding no hint at the identity of the thing. It stood for a second, making no move, as if the shadow had overridden the shape, taking its place for only the smallest fraction of time.
Then it stepped forth into the light, revealing its true form. Jonathon gasped and fell almost backward, then let out a fear-fuelled scream, which rang out throughout the whole house. Though answer came there none.
Its skin flowed baggily around its crooked contours, swaying and flowing below its ugly chin, voluminous body taking up most of the doorway. Around the pallid, life-less eyes, the skin was tinged ever-so-slightly green, giving her whole persona a cadaverous feel. The old woman's fingernails were elongated and ingrown, emerging from her stubby, limp digits. Her body was rotund and flaccid, making her movements slow and cumbersome, feet shifting infrequently, heftily. She had little hair, and what did sprout from her furrowed scalp was white and wiry, falling all over her sagged forehead.
Jonathan tried to speak, but paralysis froze his whole body, only low whines and wheezing sounds escaping from his arid mouth.
"What are you doing? Get out thief! Leave! Leave this place instantaneously!" Rasped the old woman, taking deep, irregular breaths in between words, as though she were hanging onto our world by a mere thread, and that that thread could be severed at any moment the gods desired. This time, Jonathon did manage to speak, although his mouth had lost all capability to converse in a civilised manner. "I can assure you madam, I am no thief. In fact I may ask you the question of why I am here!" He bellowed. The old woman paused, considering him. "Ah, please forgive me. You must be the young man they found in the grave." Her voice became more soothing; it perhaps may even have been described as refined.
"Grave? What grave do you speak of ma'am?" Jonathon asked bewilderedly.
"'T'was an open grave. Freshly dug, reserved one may say, in a jest!" She cackled. A thick, throaty cackle that sent chills down Jonathon's spinal column, causing him to shiver quite dramatically.
My nephew thought for a moment. Then-
"Of course, the grave-yard, what else could it have possibly been?" He murmured to himself softly. The ancient female advanced toward him, shuffling her inflated, problematic hips as she did so.
"Tell me boy, what do you find of interest in my room?"
"Your room? Do you mean to say that this room is still in service?"
"Of course! Do you question my sanity?" She shrieked, incensed once more, and Jonathon noticed a most peculiar iridescent wildness in her deadened, ashen eyes.
"No, no, no madam, in no way do I question your sanity, nor do I believe you to be senile. But what I do question is the status of this place, for it is rather dishevelled!" The ghastly figure scoffed, then shambled awkwardly across to the large dressing table, her prominently veined left arm brushing his frozen body as she did so. She was plainly tangible, and not the ghostly figure she seemed. "Can you not see it for yourself? Are you really that naive?"
"What is it that I cannot see? What can I not define?"
"Surely it is evident in the texture of my skin, in the break of my voice, the sheer frailness of my body?"
"What should I be detecting in your agedness madam? Why has this room been sealed off in such a manner?"
"Tell me boy, do you believe in witchcraft?" Jonathon disparaged the thought, for he was still young and full of scorn for all things supernatural. He was considered back on the mainland as a most respectful scholar, and his work had no place for such madness.
"I most certainly do not!" He gabbled, thrown back by this unprovoked folly.
"Well, then I regard you as a fool. Black magic has ravaged this Earth for centuries, spilling its wonder and enchantment over our universe, creating the path to eternal greatness."
"But madam, the mere thought of hexes and spells makes one guffaw with disdain!"
"I suppose you didn't see them watching you, eyes upon you at all times. As you climbed the hills, as you trenched across the swamp. When you found the grave?"
"How did you? Who watched me? Who told you?"
The old woman smirked, as though pleased by his reaction. "They didn't want you to find me. They know very well that everyone else in the hamlet knows what happened, but they want to do every-thing they can to stop it getting off the island. They are ashamed of me; they say I brought dishonour upon the family name."
"Whom do you speak of madam? Is there someone of a higher position that I can talk to?"
"I am the head of this house, and always will be, till the very last moment, when it is ripped from its very foundations!" Jonathon was startled once more by her schizophrenic mood swings, hate-filled one minute, then as polite as one could wish the next, then back again. "I was a woman of the Wicca, a witch, a disciples of Satan, whatever you wish to call them."
"Forgive me if I fail to find sensibility in your claims."
"Why do you find it so difficult to believe in the supernatural?! Why do you not see in my body the truth of why I am scarred so badly by the evil I once followed so intently?" Although Jonathon could not find it within himself to consider any truth in what she said, he could only urge her onwards, into the telling of her bogus tale.
"Please, tell me more of your malevolent past." Only a hint of sarcasm in his tone. The old woman was only happy to oblige.
"I first discovered the dark side by a book in the library. It told of fantastic sights to be seen and things to be done, and all I had to do was promise my soul to the devil. A pact. The book was read within a single night and turned my life around, for the better, I thought, though it was only after what happened that I realised how very wrong I was.
On one particular occasion I came across a chapter on immortality, it told of how I could secure my fate for the rest of eternity, but little did I know that this would never be, at least, not in the way I expected."
"What did happen?"
"Well, when the ritual was performed, I felt a new vibrancy, a new zest to life, and I decided that the only way to truly discover if I had performed the hex as hoped, was to test my mortality. To ascertain if my life could not be ended by mortal hands. Symmetry is essential in such a hex, and, with this being the most central room to the house, was the best to use. I made use of its large windowpane, through which you had no trouble gaining entry. I opened the window, lifted myself onto the sill, took in a deep breath and leapt out. Air rushed through my youthful hair, adrenaline pumping through me, even if I did die, it would have been worth it for the sheer thrill. Everything in my path hurried by in blurry merge of indistinct colours, visions of my life flashed before me, wonderful memories I thought buried in my mind, never to return, were brought to the surface. Then impact came, and, as you can see, my body is shaped at an obscure angle, rendering useless certain bones and ligaments. I was in shock for several months, and it took a huge amount of time to recover from the breakages and fractures received. The room was thereafter considered damned, was sealed off and has not since been in use. The only key in my possesion."
"Why did you not die? I know for a scientific fact that this black magic mumbo jumbo cannot be of true origin, but I decline to believe you a liar."
"Well, alas, my body did expire its sentence in this life, but what I had forgotten was that I had handed over my soul to Satan, the devil owns me now. My spirit can never die. I am cursed to be trapped in this deceased cage that carries me. I burn to be free, but there is no way to escape. The body in which I inhabit is only in such pristine condition due to regular attention and maintenance. Otherwise one cannot imagine what repulsive façade I may wear." Jonathon grimaced, thinking how grotesque she looked, even with this mysterious attention of which she boasted.
"And what may that regular maintenance be, may I ask?"
"Ah, now, a rare thing, found by chance, is needed to keep me in this condition." The woman smiled and evil smile that matched the coldness in her eyes. She let out a bloodcurdling war cry. Then Jonathon's world went black
The fisherman sighed, then took his eye from the heavens, looking back to the traveller once again. He shifted from his resting position and stood straight. "And that is the story of how I ruined the prosperous life of an intelligent young man." He said grimly. "The day I found Jonathon lying on the sand, washed up on the shore, for all to see was the worst day of my life. When I first realised him to be alive, my heart was elated. It was only when he came around from his slumber that I discovered the awful truth. This Jonathon that lay there was not the Jonathon I once knew. This shell of a man was but a mere gibbering wreck, insane, brain-dead, a person without a soul. She had taken from him what had been taken from her. He could only tell me what I have told you, before spewing out endless streams of nonsense and babbling. So my friend, you continue your journey, but do so alone, for my conscience will not allow me to visit a living hell." And with that the little, rickety, wooden boat lifted gently, onto the steep shores of Serendipity Island.
Copyright May 2002 Kids on the Net and the author