Sunday, March 27, 2016

Those from the Shadows

Beneath the feeble glow of a waning moon and a flickering streetlight, Gareth Tuthill stood on the front stoop of Jarvis Speake’s quaint but cosy abode and knocked on the door. As the schoolteacher waited for his old college chum to answer, he wondered why Jarvis had begged to see him at so late an hour. He also wondered why Jarvis had sounded so urgent over the telephone. The desperate tone of Jarvis’s summons had prompted Gareth to dress in haste and rush across town in case something serious ailed his long-time friend.
The door opened. A pale and haggard Jarvis Speake greeted his visitor with a thin smile. Streaks of white that had not been there a fortnight before shot through Jarvis’s ginger mop. Jagged lines cut across his forehead. Dark circles ringed his ice-blue eyes.
Taken aback by his friend’s dreadful appearance, Gareth gasped.
“You look terrible, Jarvis,” he muttered. “Are you ill?”
“Always honest to a fault, aren’t you?” Jarvis grinned. “Don’t just stand there agape, come in.”
“Is all well with you?” Gareth asked.
“All’s fine, now that you’re here,” Jarvis replied as he led Gareth inside. A maleficent gleam shone briefly in his eyes, but soon faded. “Please, step into the back room, and I will lay all your doubts and fears to rest.”
Jarvis guided Gareth around tables piled high with manuscript leaves and scrolls bearing cabalistic figures and arcane formulae, past shelves loaded with leather-bound tomes and brass-plated gadgets, down a hall hung with weird paintings and peculiar tapestries, and into a darkly panelled chamber. Heavy drapes blocked out lamplight and moonlight, adding to the gloom.
“It’s awfully dark in here,” Gareth commented. He never liked the dark, although he felt that it was childish for an adult to suffer from nyctophobia.
“I’ve grown accustomed to the dark as of late,” Jarvis said. “Certain of my experiments are best carried out in darkness. However, it may be best if we talk with a light on.”
As Jarvis pushed the button to switch on the unshaded electric lamp that dangled from the ceiling, Gareth thought he caught the briefest glimpse of fleet silhouettes scurrying away from the light. However, the strangely shifting shadows disturbed him less than what he saw sitting in the centre of the room.
Within a white conjurer’s circle chalked on the hardwood floor stood a high-backed oaken chair. All around this chair, along the periphery of the circle, papers inscribed with sigils and other mystical markings were tacked to the floorboards. Opposite the throne-like seat, incantations scrawled in a carmine material that looked suspiciously like dried blood covered the wall.
“What the blazes?” Gareth exclaimed. The late hour and uncanny sights had gotten the better of his composure. He adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, something he often did when flustered. “Good God, man. You don’t expect me to sit there, do you?”
“No,” Jarvis stated. “I reserve that honour for myself. The conjuration I intend to perform requires a certain mindset which, my dear Gareth, you woefully lack. However, before I begin, I must ask you a question.”
“If it pleases you, ask away,” Gareth said in the kindliest tone he could muster, one that he frequently used with his particularly troublesome students. Sure that Jarvis’s eccentric studies had driven him dangerously close to falling over the edge of sanity, Gareth wished to humour his friend the best he could.
“Might you be willing to set aside your inherent scepticism and consider the possibility that things from elsewhere slip through the shadows to enter our plane of existence?”
“Wh…wh…what?” Gareth stammered. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Even though Gareth had always enjoyed those odd evenings spent with Jarvis sipping sherry and smoking cigars while deciphering cryptic ciphers or translating bits of Old Latin, he considered himself to be an affirmed agnostic when it came to matters supernatural. He never understood Jarvis’s obsession with the occult.
“What you call supernatural may merely be a part of the natural universe not fully understood by modern man.” Jarvis retorted. “Are you able to open your mind and accept the notion that residents of twilight visit our dimension and interact with humanity? Normally spied out of the corner of one’s eye, but able to manifest themselves in full view when they wish, these beings have been seen by peoples of every culture and every era. Shades and devils are names ignorant folk give to those who normally exist on a separate plane, one that overlaps our own on the verge of shadow.”
Gareth laughed nervously. He felt that his friend, through some mental disease, had slipped entirely into the realm of fantasy. It seemed as if Jarvis’s eagerness to believe in things beyond reality had caused him to become unhinged.
“Laugh, will you?” Jarvis shot his sceptical friend an angry leer. “Laugh if you must, but I know they exist; I have seen them!”
“What you think you’ve seen are nothing more than hallucinations, products of your endless study of occult nonsense!” Gareth averred, though some of what his friend said unnerved him. Also, he could not get the sight of swift silhouettes fleeing the light out of his head.
“Not nonsense, fact!” Jarvis asserted. “I will prove it to you.”
The occultist retrieved a kerosene lantern and small nightstand from the adjacent room. He removed a pair of scissors and a box of matches from the stand’s single drawer.
“The dimmer glow of a hurricane lamp set low disturbs them less than the stark illumination of an electric light,” Jarvis explained as he trimmed the wick. He then struck a match and lit the lantern.
“I can summon them in total darkness, but I want you to see what I have seen,” Jarvis expounded while he adjusted the flame to his liking. “I want you to witness the end result of my work.”
Satisfied that the lantern light was just right, Jarvis switched off the overhead lamp. Stepping over the plethora of papers tacked to the floor, he took his place upon the wooden chair. With hands clenched firmly to the armrests and chest thrust proudly forward, Jarvis looked like a king seated upon his throne. A fey spark flashed in his eyes.
“My theories regarding the nature of certain paranormal phenomena led me to experiment with various invocations,” Jarvis elaborated. “I pored over a multitude of esoteric works, copied dozens of magical seals, recited numerous spells, and finally drew those that live on the other side of shadow into our world.
“Then I experienced the ultimate breakthrough. I became able to call those from elsewhere with thought alone. My mind, a mind clearer now than it has ever been before, allows me to consort with unearthly entities. It permits me to commune with the unknown.”
“Please, Jarvis, stop this now!” Gareth pleaded. “This latest project of yours is taking too great a toll.”
“A great toll, yes,” Jarvis mumbled. For a moment, the fire in his ice-blue eyes grew faint. “It requires mental energy of a certain frequency to bring them here with any sort of regularity. That’s why I said you lack the right mindset; belief is a factor. Summoning them can be taxing, but that’s not the worst of it. To maintain themselves on our material plane, they demand an earthly sustenance, nourishment of a particularly sanguine nature.”
“Jarvis, why have you called me here tonight?” Gareth asked in a sombre tone. He began to worry about his own safety.
“For years, I’ve tolerated your inflexible scepticism, your disbelief of anything outside the accepted norm,” Jarvis sneered. His countenance grew savage. In the wavering lantern light, his pallid flesh shone with an eerie luminosity.
“A part of me held onto the hope that you would realize the error of your philosophy. I considered sparing you, if you had opened your mind but a crack. Now I see there is no hope in this. You remain blind to the broader truth. I’ve reached the end of my tolerance for your continued blindness.
“I brought you here, my dear Gareth, because my new friends need to feed, and I dare not give them any more of my own blood.”
Jarvis’s wild gaze intensified. The atmosphere in the room throbbed with eldritch energy. Splinters of darkness detached from the Cimmerian gloom lodged in the corners of the room, slithered across the floor, and cloaked Jarvis in an ebon shroud. These fragments of shadow heaved and quaked as they took on a variety of grotesque forms. Beings barely humanoid in form crawled over Jarvis in a squirming, gibbering mass, and danced a manic reel around his enshrouded body.
Gareth stood transfixed. His disquieted brain refused to comprehend what his unblinking eyes saw. The sight made his skin crawl and his short-cropped hair stand on end.
The entities began to chant in unison, repeating the same incomprehensible words over, and over, and over again. Their arms beat in tune, rising and falling faster and faster as their rhythm and tone grew more and more insistent. Seeming to understand what they wanted, Jarvis responded from beneath the chanting heap.
“You will feed!” Jarvis cried. “You will have blood! I offer you the blood of the unbeliever! Make him pay for his lack of faith!”
The sound of Jarvis offering him up as a sacrifice, and the sight of a hundred dusky heads turned his way, spurred Gareth into action. He grabbed up the still-burning hurricane lamp and lobbed it toward the bevy of shades. The lantern smashed against the paper covered floor, showering Jarvis and those from the shadows in broken glass and flaming kerosene. Fed by the tacked-down papers, the flames soon spread to the heavy drapes hung over the window.
Recoiling from the growing blaze, the dark creatures closed about their summoner in a screeching pile. Smothered by that wretched throng, Jarvis gagged and gasped for air.
Ever the concerned soul, Gareth tried to reach for Jarvis to pull him out of the burning chamber, but he dared not touch any part of that hideous horde. The quivering mass clung tightly to Jarvis and enveloped his whole frame. Repulsed by things that challenged his view of the universe, terrified to make physical contact with beings from beyond his version of reality, Gareth found it impossible to rescue his one-time friend. Soon the spreading flames and rolling smoke drove him from the room.
Gareth tottered down the hall and across the outer room, knocking over piles of books and stacks of scrolls as he stumbled. He felt his way through the thickening haze and reached the front door. Wheezing and coughing, he staggered out the door and tripped down the front steps.
For a moment, Gareth lay in a dazed heap upon the gravel walk just outside that house of horror. Then the enormity of what he had just witnessed sunk in. With adrenaline pumping and heart pounding, he dragged himself up and bolted for home. Sirens wailed in the distance as smoke billowed in the starry sky, but he never looked back. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him and did not stop running until he arrived at his own front door.
Shaky hands fumbled with jingling keys, but Gareth managed to find the right one and let himself in. He tried to pour himself a brandy to calm his frayed nerves, but he spilled most of it on the carpet in the process. He then collapsed into his favourite armchair and gazed into nothingness. His staring eyes eventually closed as weariness overcame fright. Gareth began to fall into an uneasy sleep.
Gareth’s slumbering mind envisioned a host of new terrors. It carried him back to that dreadful room in Jarvis’s house. It kept him there while a hellish firestorm engulfed Jarvis’s body. It forced him to observe the grisly scene left in the inferno’s wake.
In his mind’s eye, Gareth saw Jarvis’s blackened figure bathed in a corpse-light shimmer and surrounded by a multitude of writhing grotesqueries. Untouched by the conflagration that had burned his flesh, Jarvis’s icy eyes looked upon the scene with a rabid glare. Then his charred lips pulled back in a ghastly smirk and he let out a diabolical laugh. He continued to laugh as the gruesome mob poured out of the shouldering ruins and into the night.
The sound of several small feet tromping on the flagstone path just outside his window roused Gareth from those fitful dreams. He heard an unintelligible muttering at his front door, as if a throng of strange savages stood on the steps. Tiny fists pounded the door’s oaken panels, louder and louder, harder and harder. The sturdy wood groaned under the strain and then started to buckle.
Gareth realized those beings from the shadows had neither perished in the blaze nor departed this world. They had come for him. They had tracked their marked prey through mystical means or senses unknown to humanity. They still hungered for his blood.
Gareth screamed as the door gave way.

Copyright © 2014 Richard H. Fay

Story originally published in Bête Noire, Issue #14, February 2014.

The Redcap of Glamtallon

A steel-grey sedan pulled up a disused track and parked beneath the grim walls of Glamtallon Castle. Alec MacCrimmon, unofficial county historian and caretaker of the timeworn tower, turned off the ignition but refused to leave the relative comfort of his car. With hands clasped so tight to the steering wheel that his knuckles turned white, he glanced up at the fortress and shivered. Even though bathed in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun, the lichen-festooned edifice exuded an algid chill. MacCrimmon never liked the look or feel of the place. He especially disliked being anywhere near it so close to sunset.
“Here we are, then,” the grey-haired historian said to his two young passengers. The slight strain in his voice betrayed his troubled mood. “Though, Lord help me for bringing you here at this time of day.”
“Lovely accommodations,” Rodger Birch quipped as he stuck his head through the space between the front seats. “Lovely if you’re a ghost, that is.”
“Enough of that, Rodge,” Linda Sullivan spat as she turned and pushed back her boyfriend’s grinning face back. “Can’t you be serious for once?”
“I am serious,” Rodger smirked. “It’s a right serious place for a spook!”
“The stories of devilish beasties and malevolent haunts that swirl about this place are no laughing matter,” MacCrimmon murmured with a frown. “This peel had been built by a particularly rapacious member of the Border nobility who shifted allegiance as often as the wind changes direction. It swiftly gained a sinister reputation as a centre of torture and death. Age-old rumours suggest that an especially evil descendant of Glamtallon’s original laird practiced diabolic rites and black arts. Historical fact states that this very same nobleman was burned at the stake, convicted of being in league with the Devil and consorting with demonic familiars. Stories persist to the present day of seeing spectral lights and hearing dreadful sounds coming from the empty ruin after dark. Most folk in these parts say that the place still harbours an evil first summoned centuries ago. While I’ve never seen any ghosties or ghoulies myself, I’m never to be found here at night.”
“Nighttime is the best time for me to do what I’ve come here to do,” Linda stated as she reached for her digital recorder and infrared video camera. An American graduate student studying abroad, Linda planned on writing a thesis about supernatural themes in traditional Scottish folklore. She was also interested in parapsychology, and wanted to work true-life encounters with the supernatural into her paper. "I’m here because of these stories. I want to find out what inspired such terrifying tales. I also want to know if there is any truth behind the claims of paranormal phenomena.”
“I’m just along for the ride,” Rodger shrugged. “I’m also performing the role of resident skeptic.” Linda’s beau and flat-mate didn’t put much stock in local fairy tales and campfire stories. A biology major and avowed agnostic when it came to things otherworldly, Rodger held no belief whatsoever in ghosties, ghoulies, or other things that go bump in the night. However, as a lover of life, he still enjoyed a good yarn and entertaining jaunt every now and then.
“You’re also here as an extra pair of hands,” Linda added. “Be a dear and grab the EMF detector.”
“I don’t think I’m completely comfortable with the idea of the two of you spending the night in there,” MacCrimmon grumbled.
“It’s not like we’ll be playing house,” Linda said. “Besides, you already agreed to let us investigate overnight when we discussed it before.”
MacCrimmon groaned and shook his head. He simply didn’t understand the reckless enthusiasm of youth. He was probably born old.
“Do you have your flashlight, hon?” Linda asked Rodger.
“Nae, but I do have my torch, love” Rodger replied with an exaggerated accent. He shot his girlfriend a toothy smile.
Linda grimaced, annoyed by her boyfriend’s silliness. She worried that his less-than-serious attitude would interfere with the coming night’s vigil. Linda wished to experience those aspects of the castle’s character that had inspired such eerie myths and legends. She also hoped to capture evidence of paranormal activity. An actual supernatural experience would be icing on the cake.
“Here you go, then,” MacCrimmon said with a sigh as he retrieved a large brass key from the pocket of his Harris Tweed jacket. “This unlocks the yett.”
“Do you have a yeti locked up in there?” Rodger queried with grin.
“No, Rodge!” Linda scolded. “A yett, as in an iron grillwork gate.”
“Installed to keep out fools like me?” Rodger suggested.
“Or to keep something in,” MacCrimmon implied ominously. “Iron is said to have some affect against unearthly entities.”
“I’m liking this place better already!” Rodger proclaimed. He climbed out of the backseat of MacCrimmon’s car and stared up at one of the narrow windows that cut through the upper section of the fortress wall. The setting sun gilded the stonework around the opening but did little to drive away the pervasive murk within. As he gazed upward into that dark hole, Rodger thought he caught the briefest glimpse of a deeper blackness sliding through the gloom. It looked as if someone or something had walked swiftly past the empty embrasure.
“There’s somebody up there!” Rodger exclaimed.
“Where?” MacCrimmon asked as he leaned his head out the open driver’s side window.
Rodger pointed to the spot, on the floor just below the level of the battlements.
“Impossible,” MacCrimmon grunted. “That window looks out from the lord’s solar, on the third storey of the castle. The wooden floor of that chamber rotted away long ago. Only the undercroft, great hall, and a portion of the battlements are still accessible. No one could be in that chamber.”
“No one living, that is,” Linda added. Seeing the genuine fear in MacCrimmon’s eyes made her regret saying it. She gave the old man’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze and then joined her beau outside the car.
“I’ll return for you in the morning," MacCrimmon stated as he started his engine, anxious to leave. “For what it’s worth, I wish you well. Be careful. This is a dangerous place, and not just due to its ruinous state.”
“Strange chap,” Rodger commented as MacCrimmon’s car pulled away.
“A walking encyclopaedia of local lore,” Linda pointed out.
“I could’ve sworn I saw something,” Rodger grumbled as he turned a puzzled look back toward the castle.
“Don’t tell me you’re actually starting to believe in ghosts,” Linda laughed.
“Don’t bet on it, me lassie!” Rodger shot back. “Twas a trick of the light, that be all.”
“Why don’t we find out for sure?” Linda suggested.
Mossy stone stairs set against the north wall led up to a pointed Gothic arch. A rusty iron grate stood within the dusky umbra of the threshold. A dank draught carrying the hint of mouldering decay wafted through the open grillwork. Linda managed to unlock the gate but needed Rodger’s help to push it open. The yett’s neglected hinges protested with a raspy squeal.
Only a fading glimmer of faint sunlight shone through the westerly windows of the castle’s great hall. The keep’s imposing walls perpetually imprisoned shards of midnight. Strange shadows lurked in far corners and darkened doorways. Filth covered the flagstone floor. Bats flew crazy patterns in clammy air that reeked of corruption.
Rodger remained silent as his torchlight struggled to part the stubborn darkness, his jocularity stifled by the dismal atmosphere. Linda, on the other hand, remained relatively unphased by Glamtallon’s unnerving ambience. She shot a slow pan of the gateway and hall before she recorded a few preliminary observations.
“Even though night has not yet fallen, the inside of Glamtallon is already quite dark,” Linda spoke into the microphone of her recorder. “Lack of visual acuity in such twilight conditions could produce hallucinatory effects. Optical illusions may create the impression of movement within the darkness. The mind’s eye may fill the void with all sorts of imagined entities.”
“Good point,” Rodger interrupted, glad that Linda was willing to considered mundane alternatives to the paranormal. “However, imagined or not, I don’t care to see anything other than bats moving around in here.”
“Why don’t we get this investigation really going down in the basement?” Linda said with a devilish smile as she switched off her recorder. She was annoyed by Rodger’s interruption, and felt it was time to drag him somewhere truly creepy.
“Why the basement?” Rodger wondered. He tried to look tough for Linda, but the quaver in his voice betrayed his anxiety. Standing in the unsettling murk, he felt the unknown intruding upon his neat, scientific view of reality. It bothered him greatly.
“Because nasty things always reside in basements,” Linda explained as she headed toward a decrepit spiral staircase built into the thickness of one of the keep’s four corners.
“Ask a silly question…” Rodger mumbled as he followed his girlfriend down the uneven stairs.
Shadows battled the light beneath broad masonry arches, advancing and retreating as Rodger’s torchlight played off the squat pillars of the castle’s undercroft. Dusty cobwebs hung like tattered tapestries from the vaulted ceiling. A well bespotted with a leprous growth sat in the centre of the earthen floor. Disturbed by the approaching footsteps, a large centipede scurried into a joint long devoid of mortar.
Curious and a bit bored, Rodger peered down the well shaft. He quickly reeled back in disgust. A foul odour rose up from the well’s slimy depths.
“That well became unusable centuries ago,” Linda pointed out. “It was probably contaminated with the castle wastes. That may be one of the more practical reasons this place gained an unsavoury reputation. I want to find out if there were other reasons as well.”
“That should’ve been reason enough,” Rodger stated. “It smells like shit down there.”
“You’re a hopeless fool,” Linda laughed.
“That’s why you’ve fallen hopelessly in love with me!” Rodger declared with a smile. “Who’s more the fool, the hopeless fool, or the one hopelessly in love with the hopeless fool? You do love me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do!” Linda replied as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “If we were anywhere else, I would show you how much I do love you, but this place kind of kills the mood.”
“Pretty much,” Rodger crooned as he leaned closer.
The two kissed, but loud metallic stomping sounded above their heads and interrupted their tender moment. A strident clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop marched from one end of the hall to the other.
“What the hell is that?” Rodger croaked as the blood drained from his cheeks.
“I’ve got to get a recording of this,” Linda said excitedly as she pressed the record button on her digital recorder. The device’s indicator lights flashed on briefly, but then went out. The phantom footsteps passed once more above their heads, but Linda’s recorder refused to work.
“Damn it!” She spat. “I think the batteries are dead.”
“I know I put fresh ones in this morning,” Rodger insisted in a husky whisper. He didn’t want to be heard by whatever was walking around in the great hall. “Check the camera.”
Linda switched on her infrared camera and stared in disbelief at the luminous screen. It showed only one bar in the battery icon.
“This was fully charged before we left,” she groaned. “It worked just fine when we were up in the hall.” Stark realization showed in the young woman’s eyes as she stared worriedly toward the stairway.
“I know,” Rodger breathed, reading her thoughts. “It’s between us and the way out.”
“I’m not ready to leave just yet!” Linda proclaimed.
“And what if it drains the torch batteries, too?” Rodger asked worryingly.
“So far, so good,” Linda said as she snatched the light from Rodger’s sweaty hand. Satisfied that it remained steadily light, she handed the torch back to Rodger and retrieved her own from her pocket.
“C’mon, let’s see if we can catch sight of whomever, or whatever, is making all that racket. I want to make sure we’re not the victims of some prankster.”
Encroaching nightfall cloaked the dreadful edifice in deepening darkness. Only the bats stirred in the hall, winging their way out the windows and into the evening sky. Rodger shined his torchlight across the flagstone, but saw no trace of any mortal intruder. Nothing had disturbed the layers of filth. Linda thought she spied a fleeting flash, as if the beam briefly glinted off some reflective object at the far end of the hall. They both heard a guttural muttering, low but distinct, coming from the doorway opposite the main entrance. The strange murmurs passed out of the tower and into a walled courtyard.
“The gardens!” Linda cried. She raced toward the courtyard. Rodger tailed reluctantly behind.
Brambles and nettles choked the garden grounds. Roses run wild thrust their thorny canes up through the bristly weeds. Their blood-red blooms looked black in the darkness. Twining vines and gnarled shrubs covered the broken cobbled path, making it nearly impossible to walk any great distance past the doorway.
“Nothing here,” Rodger said.
“Something came this way,” Linda asserted rather angrily. The night’s events hadn’t rattled her yet, but she was starting to get aggravated. “Someone is playing games with us.”
“Oh, joy!” Rodger moaned. “I’m ready to call it quits. They win.”
“Ready to give in when the night’s still young, Rodge?” Linda grinned. “That’s not like you at all. Aren’t you having fun?”
“This stopped being fun quite a while ago,” Rodger said. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
Linda’s expression grew grave. She became concerned about what effect the night’s events were having on Rodger. She wondered if his psyche could deal with such a challenge to his affirmed beliefs. She figured she would appeal to his protective side, to give him a reason to forget his fears.
“How can you be my knight in shining armour if you go all to pieces on me?” Linda asked. “I may need a big strong man before this night is through. Besides, some of this may simply be our imaginations getting the better of us.”
“Right,” Rodger said. He drew a deep breath and tried to regain some of his composure. “I’m just being a silly sod.”
The same clip-clop they heard earlier sounded above their heads, from the direction of the tower battlements. Rodger stood transfixed. Linda shined her torch upward.
A head leaned out from the space between two merlons. Upon this head sat an old-fashioned red cap. Below the cap, a pair of fiery eyes glared down at the two investigators. Then the strange sight, head, cap, and all, vanished behind the decaying stonework.
“Now it’s on the battlement,” Linda stated with a mixture of worry and awe. Something about that brief glimpse troubled her badly, but she remained determined to gather some concrete evidence of the supernatural. She was more convinced than ever that Glamtallon did indeed harbour something paranormal within its dim walls.
“And I suppose that’s where we’re headed next,” Rodger said with a sigh. He was doing his best to overcome his fears, but it was a struggle.
Linda nodded.
The couple made their way back to the hall and then slowly climbed the nearest set of spiral stairs. They picked their way carefully past piles of rubble and stepped gingerly over broken steps as they ascended to the uppermost level of the keep. Through the loopholes built into the stairwell, they could see the full moon rising over the eastern horizon.
Once in the threshold to the derelict battlements, Linda whispered for Rodger to check the EMF detector while she tried to get her recorder and camera to work. The green and yellow lights on the EMF detector in Rodger’s hand blinked wildly, indicating a massive electromagnetic field fluctuation. Linda’s camera and recorder sprang to life, but both devices acted possessed. Even though set in record mode, the digital recorder played back garbled gibberish. The viewscreen on the camera flickered between mad static and a grotesque array of leering faces. Then all went dead.
“Linda,” Rodger whispered. “Linda, the torch is going out.”
Linda glanced over at her beau with fear in her eyes. Rodger held up the torch. The light slowly dimmed and then went out. Linda checked her own torch, but it refused to turn on.
The rising moon silvered the battered top of the crenellated wall. A cool breath blew across the weathered stones. Metallic footsteps echoed along the allure and drew closer to where Linda and Rodger huddled in the deeper darkness of the stairway threshold.
A squat old dwarf clad in rough leather jerkin, iron boots, and crimson Phrygian cap emerged out of the gloom. Scraggly grey hair streamed over his hunched shoulders. Pointed teeth hung from his twisted mouth. Gleaming eyes shone from beneath his beetled brow. He held a long-hafted battle-axe in his gnarled hands. The weapon’s sharp blade glinted in the moonlight.
“Rodger, we have to get out of here,” Linda whispered. “This is no ghost. This is a redcap.”
The goblin’s pricked ears picked up Linda’s worried whisper. He cocked his head, shot the young couple a sinister smile, and then turned on his iron heels and disappeared.
“Where did he go?” Linda murmured.
“Doesn’t matter, ’cause we’re outta here!” Rodger cried as he grabbed Linda’s arm and led here back down the stone stairs.
Anxious to leave, but unwilling to face injury or death by tripping down the treacherous stairs, the two investigators felt their way along in the dark. They stubbed toes and scraped elbows as they went, but they continued their descent. However, halfway down, the panicked duo once more heard the distinctive sound of the redcap’s metal boots striking the flagstone floor of the castle hall. The dreadful realisation that the creature was now between them and escape made their blood run cold.
“Now what do we do?” Linda asked nervously.
Rodger didn’t answer her. He had no answer, and it angered him. He hated feeling so helpless.
The two lovers clung to each other, shivering in the dark. They waited for what seemed like an eternity as they listened to the brute pacing the floor below. Then all grew silent.
“I think he’s moved on,” Rodger said. “You stay here while I go check it out.”
“Rodge, no!" Linda pleaded
Rodger’s anger had finally conquered his fear. He wasn’t going to be trapped in that place forever.
“You wanted a knight in shining armour!” Rodger proclaimed. “I’m going to make sure we get out of here.”
Linda reached for Rodger’s arm to stop him, but to no avail. Her beau tore free of her grasp and headed down the stairs.
“Rodger!” Linda called anxiously.
“Stay there,” Rodger hissed back from where he stood just a few steps above the hall doorway. “I think it’s clear, but I’ll double check to make sure.”
Linda heard the shuffle of Rodger’s shoes on the dusty stones as he ventured into the hall. Then she heard a sickly thud immediately followed by a ghastly moan.
Shaking and fighting against the instinct to fly further up the stairs, Linda made her way, step by step, down to the paler gloom of the hall threshold. As she peered cautiously around the mouldering jamb, her eyes caught sight of a gruesome scene that paralysed her limbs and stopped her heart.
Bathed in the moonlight that poured through the easterly embrasures, the goblin crouched over a figure sprawled on the floor. He doffed his cap and dipped it in the glistening pool of blood that spread out from Rodger’s cloven skull. Linda whimpered her beau’s name, but she knew it was already too late.
The murderous dwarf stood erect. A cruel look contorted his ugly face. He donned his grisly hat and blood ran down his wrinkled cheeks. He then picked up his axe and strode toward his next victim.
The will to survive overrode Linda’s fright and she bolted past the abomination. She ran straight for the tower’s main entrance. The redcap’s gore-stained blade came within a hair’s breadth of ending her life, but Linda raced through the gateway and slammed the iron yett shut.
Wracked by uncontrollable sobs, Linda fell to her knees, still gripping the corroded grillwork. Burning tears ran down her freckled cheeks. For a moment, she wondered if she was caught in the clutches of a terrible dream. She thought she might wake up and find Rodger sleeping soundly next to her. The sting of the gritty bars biting into her palms brought reality flooding back.
“Rodger, Rodger,” Linda moaned her slain lover’s name over and over again.
“Rodger, Rodger”, the redcap echoed in a guttural tone. He pressed his repulsive face against the yett. “Rodger be dead!”
Linda leapt backward. She tumbled off the gateway stairs. Her right shoulder popped as she hit the ground.
Dazed and in pain, Linda lay in the dirt. Then she heard the iron grate rattle in its frame. Looking up, she could see the goblin’s taloned hands clutching the bars. His sinews twitched as he shook the gate. He laughed hideously and taunted his prey.
“You next!” The redcap shrieked. “You die next!”
Linda dragged herself up and stumbled down the unkempt road that led away from the castle. She staggered and swayed, and her right arm hung limp at her side, but she willed herself onward. The visions of Rodger lying dead on the flagstones and the redcap’s leering face peering out of the gateway kept her running. She had to get away from Glamtallon. She had to escape that horror.
Bright lights blinded her as a car approached up the track. She threw her good arm up before her eyes and tried to remain on her feet, but her wobbly legs finally gave out beneath her. She fell in a faint as MacCrimmon slammed on his brakes.


Blackness gave way to a murky haze as Linda awoke in a hospital bed. Her shoulder ached, and she felt the discomfort of an intravenous needle in her arm. She could hear the murmur of doctors and nurses talking in the corridor outside. As the haziness slowly lifted, she noticed MacCrimmon standing at her bedside. His bushy brows were screwed up into an anxious frown and his rheumy eyes displayed a disturbing sorrow.
“Rodger,” Linda muttered, only half-remembering the night’s events. “Where’s Rodger?”
“I’m so sorry, lass” MacCrimmon said. “I don’t know where Rodger is. I’m not exactly sure what happened last night, but I can hazard a guess.”
“It was you on the road, wasn’t it?” Linda asked, trying to remember.
“Aye,” MacCrimmon nodded. “Troubled by the thought of leaving the two of you in that accurst peel, I decided to go back. I never expected to find you wandering the road in such a dreadful state. It looks like you suffered a dislocated shoulder, along with some cuts and bruises. When I first found you, you seemed to be in a state of shock. All the way to the hospital, you kept muttering about Rodger, blood, and murder.”
I searched Glamtallon just after dawn, but found no trace of the lad. I then called Constable Frasier, so he could conduct an official inquiry. Seeing no evidence of foul play, Frasier seems to think it was simply a practical joke gone wrong. He’s convinced that Rodger will turn up in a few days.”
“But, but, but, it was no joke!” Linda stammered, recalling more details of the previous evening’s terror. “You found no trace of Rodger at all? No body? Nothing?”
“I did find one small clue to his fate.” MacCrimmon stated grimly. “I didn’t want to show the constable this thing. He wouldn’t understand. You and I understand all too well.”
The historian held up the blood-stained cap that he had safely tucked away in his jacket pocket.
Linda screamed.

Copyright © 2013 Richard H. Fay

Story originally published in Cover of Darkness, Issue 14, March 2013.