This cursed fever has made it difficult to think, and the storm which continues to claw and roar at these ancient walls makes it harder yet. Though I hear the storm, though I hear the thunder pound and shake and spend it's hellish fury, in this room, this tiny room sequestered distances unimaginable from the storm without, I can no longer see anything but a sickly violet light and something that resembles lightning when I raise my head to the window mere feet from where I sit. I am in the mausoleum, but no longer of it. Perhaps I am in hell.
My hand, my right hand, the hand on which I depend for so much, maintains a scant purchase on the greasy quill found buried in this desk. This poor hand, - blessedly numb from the poison which has continued to fester unchecked for nights on end, now mottled and swollen like so much rotted meat, - serves as best it can.
And so we carry on, the little team I have with me here in this darkest hour, a team consisting of one dust festooned bottle of India ink, so dry and nigh useless I moisten it with spittle, a rank quill grey with age, a few sheets of precious paper salvaged from the depths of my reticule - and this ancient desk upon which I slump.
My lone candle is spent. I must write by flash of this wicked storm and the lightning which shows so sign of abating. There is something unnatural about this storm. In my madness, I no longer am able to remember a time when it wasn't like this.
And yet, and YET ... I give thanks for the unholy crash of thunder and lightning, so unwholesomely brilliant it flashes a sickly violet now and then. In the Great Rooms down below, stories and centuries beneath me in some time out of mind, I could see it approaching beyond the windows, windows taller than they should be, windows coated with grime and smears of something best left unexamined. There are remnants, tattered ghosts more likely, of long ago curtains still hung in spots. They are blood red, and I did wonder who had chosen such curtains?
There hang no curtains upon the window in this hidden and horrid room. There are only bars.
Anyway, it is thankful I am for this storm and it's random illumination, for without it doubtless I would have died days ago. When my candle was gutted. When the spider bit me.
Spiders HATE light, did you know that?
This place, this mausoleum as I have christened it, is over run with Spiders!
How I DESPISE the nasty things! And they are clever, like feral beasts. I cannot for the life of me imagine how any creature such as these monsters has come to be?!
The first one I saw was the morning after my rig broke down. And to delay the remembered fright of that awful moment, I will tell what happened. Very briefly, as not much time is left me, I fear...
I was on my way to Edinburgh. I planned a stay with relatives whose faces are now but a blur to me. Then it came I discovered I had dallied too long at an Inn for my supper, and decided to take a short cut heretofore unknown to me, but one I'd noticed on a map.
Now the map in my possession was a hand-written one once belonging to my father's father. I had chanced upon it when sorting through some of grandfather's old books that I'd arranged to bring with me to his only daughter, my Aunt now residing in Edinburgh. So in fact it was more a fluke than anything else that I carried it on my person at all. But I DID notice a faint and smudged and seemingly shorter route marked upon it that seemed prudent to take, as time was running scarce before the family was to be expecting me.
I noticed the shortcut passed through a village once named, and at the time this amused me - Darke Well. Why it had been marked on Grandfather's map, even one in excess of 4 score old, posed a mystery, for when I rode through the village and beheld the very condition of those worm-eaten cottages precariously held atop crumbling foundations, and an immense central well whose slime coated stones had thoroughly and completely caved in upon themselves on one entire side, a well that seemed inappropriately large for the size of the town, why this wretched little village was marked on a map made years and years after it's demise was unclear to me and certainly a mystery. By my guess this wretched hole had not housed a living soul for a century or better! That its whereabouts had been noted must have been a mistake, if not a waste of time on grandfather's part.
As I rode through the desolate square, it seemed a hush fell over the area and my horse's measure unnaturally loud. Had there been more time to me, I would have halted my rig to explore since I own an interest with antiquities and things of that nature. On a decent day with plenty of time and sunlight, I would perhaps have enjoyed an hour or two in exploration of the decayed little village. The well alone was a curiosity.
And I kept staring again and again at the spidery cottages, thin and overly tall like skeletons clawing upwards. They reminded me of moon-bleached bones thrust boldly out of the earth (but that was only the impression of a morbidly poetic soul, which I've never denied owning up to) and from what I could see - as some had tilted so badly and others had long since given up the fight against Newton's gravity - the best I could discern was that they had perhaps been built to stand several stories tall, which was in itself unusual for the commoner to build at that time.
The more I looked about, and despite my interest, I was at that point very much beginning to dislike what I saw when it further came to my attention that not a one of the cottages sported a foundation that made more than the most absolute of necessary contact with the ground. It seemed that there was an avoidance or reversal of engineering! Perhaps the old houses of bones had collapsed sooner than otherwise owing to the oddity of their very construction?
My nag had slowed to a near halt, and I knew I needed to hurry her along and get about my business. My nervousness was increasing by the moment, and the eerie works of Darke Well had crept beneath my skin. I did not like the impression, the young man's fancy, of movement I had begun to imagine was taking place behind the gaping windows of the tilted bleached cottages! I would have liked to have put my curiosity and nerves at rest and satisfy my own mind that my imagination had simply gone aflight, however, at that time, dusk was close upon me and storm clouds were thickening in the sky to the west like a noxious soup. With that then I gave no further concern to the forgotten hamlet of Darke Well. My only worry now was beating the storm and making good time. With a sudden change of mood, I began to happily anticipate a hearty draught of spiced ale and a warm fire in the company of my Aunt and pretty cousins. Those were my new concerns.
Until half a mile or so from Darke Well village when an axle broke on my rig! ... (here I would like to make mention, for the sake of pride, that though I am by birth a Rich Man's Son, I have been properly reared to matters of self-sufficiency) ... and all would have been well, perhaps, had the first bolt of lightning not struck so near and my nag became spooked! Just as I was in process of unharnessing her from the rig, a jagged burst of violet lit the gloom and a thunder unlike that which I have ever heard reverberated throughout the entire countryside, and I vow I felt the earth quake beneath my feet!
In only seconds I was without a horse, a rig, and fully aware that that my earlier thoughts of comfort and good company were not to be.
My situation, though not dire, was vexing in the extreme!
By my calculations Edinburgh was now closer than the Inn where I had supped, so I decided to walk the 11 miles or so that lay between it and me. For a young man of good health it should not have presented a challenge. I emptied out the smallest of my reticules and repacked it with what valuables such as I had brought with me, and those items I deemed necessary to my comfort. Grandfather's books, needless to say, could go hang at that point!
Then, when eventually at my aunt's, I could return after with a servant to set matters right. My horse, I hoped, would wander back to the rig before I returned and be waiting for me there. She was sturdy and mature and patient, and I had no doubts concerning her behavior once the storm ran it's course.
So when finally I had the situation nicely resolved in my head with a plan of action, my earlier optimism returned and thus I shouldered my bag and planted my boots on the path through the spindly woods, determined to find a measure of adventure in this minor mishap! For a little while I found myself humming a gay tune to dispel the uncanny silence of the countryside. I wondered if my cousin Sarah would be in residence, and if she'd baked her famous Lemon Sponge for my coming?
With the zest and self-absorption of the young, I failed to notice how the miserable countryside held it's breath, how the storm seemed poised and waiting. I paid scant attention to the dim silhouettes of the sickly trees and their twisted limbs. I kept my head to the path, marched briskly along, impervious to the ill gloom spreading insidiously over all.
At the height of my gaiety and fortitude, I heard the rumbling begin anew, far closer now than previously. The first crash, when it came, seemed aimed directly at my head.
Jerked from my reverie, I started to run, an unwilling player in some malicious game of cat and mouse, and tried to cover my head with my bag. The lighting struck all around me, first ahead of me, where I would stop, heart pounding, one foot raised in mid lunge, then behind me, where I was convinced had I slowed one iota more I would have been in cinders! I ran in zigzags through the woods, hoping and praying I would not catch my foot upon a sly errant root and twist my leg like a silly goose in one of those trashy penny dreadfuls. I ran blindly, on and on, with a pain spreading in my right side like a fire, until the breath sobbed in my throat and I prayed to Our Lord to lead me to shelter.
But it was not He who answered.
Suddenly and without warning, the woods ended and I stood in a clearing mere yards beyond which loomed a wretched, decayed monstrosity! And as the hellish thunder and the putrid lightning chased me onward, urging me forward towards my doom, I threw my strained and shaking form against gigantic doors hewn from wood too old to name, and heaved a sigh of thanks with lips that quivered so that I could not form the words of a proper prayer.
I turned the latch that twisted beneath my fingers like a snake carved from brass, and as I turned to find refuge (here I chuckle in my incipient madness) within, I noticed a group of witch-like trees at the property's edge, stick figures leaping in the twilight, set ablaze by lightning. I must stay in the new found shelter until the storm was past. That is what I would do, I decided. For no man, sane or otherwise, would be so foolhardy as to venture further on a night such as this.
And I closed the doors behind me.
(My ink is running dry, and though my spit has turned to drool, soon there will be nothing left to moisten. So I shall be more economical with my words. Besides, my faithful hand has swollen to grotesque proportions, and how can one pen words with a rotted side of beef?!)
So, with the storm safely at my back, I faced the prospect of spending a few hours or an entire night, at most, within these walls I now suffer. My respiration had settled, and my courage was, by slow measure I attest, nonetheless returning. There, sprawled carelessly in a heap just inside the massive doors, I pawed through my reticule in search of candle and match. Within the comfort of it's meagre flame, I took a few curious, cautious steps into the interior of the mausoleum. My nerves, stretched as they were like the tautest of piano string, were not made merrier by the sights revealed by my brave little candle. Ignoring the black wells of shadow that slid in and out of candle range, ignoring the draped and hidden furniture that stood scattered about like sheeted caskets, ignoring the savage doorways and over sized windows that stood sentinel overall, I was deliberately oblivious to these things because my attention had been caught by something else, something that gibbered and slithered beyond the raw edge of my tattered senses.
And then a crash would resound, another burst of warning from the weirdly malevolent storm that had no rain, and the mysterious noises were momentarily muffled by the ominous thunder which seemed to grab the very countryside, like a giant gone berserk, and shake it in his fist until I thought the terrible mansion which gave me shelter must surely rend itself apart.
Between these moments of gagging terror, I could barely hear, if I strained my ears just so, I could vaguely detect the whispering movements of something beyond my vision, lurking in the shadows.
Then a thought hit me, and I was right with the world again!
Mice! Of course! What an idiot I'd become! Why, everyone knows old houses left unattended are RIFE with mice! Being a squire's son, a country Baron, my discomfiture with rodents had disappeared by the time I was out of knee length breeches!
Mice!!! I could not believe my own idiocy, to be so unnerved by a few rats or rodents! What the devil was wrong with me, my nerves so undone by a summer storm, or abandoned properties? I had let my morbid nature take the upper hand, perhaps I'd unknowingly supped on tainted food. What an idiot I'd learned myself to be.
Boldly then, with surer foot upon those weathered and rotted boards, I fearlessly explored my free and unexpected Inn for the night, eventually making my way up an odd and somehow askant steeply winding staircase that hugged a supporting pillar in the center of one of the Great Rooms. This staircase reminded me of a vine, the childhood fable of Jack and the Beanstalk came to mind, due to the uncanny design as it gripped it's way tightly round and round the huge supporting pillar solidly planted in the center of the room. The fact was, the pillar at one time had been painted a deathly green, as bits of paint still clung here and there in flaking patches. Thus, the image of a beanstalk was not too far fetched!
There came a dull clang with each step of my booted feet against the metal rungs, and after a short while I had to wonder precisely how far this damnable thing went?! Admittedly, with the events of the day still close behind me, I was fatigued by the nervous strain I'd endured, and a bed, ANY BED, at that point would be welcome. Mice or no! And I smirked again.
Now, judging from the brief, albeit rushed, prior glance of the outer facade of this derelict mansion, I would have measured it four, or perhaps five, floors in height. And yet, after a good thirty minutes or better climbing the ponderously tilting old staircase, I would have declared I was climbing famous Mt. Rushmore! I was so far up, it felt, that to see down below into the gloomy Great Room was to peer into a sea of darkness, and as no other floors broke the climb, I was ascending straight to the uppermost regions of the mansion whether I desired to or not. With the daunting prospect of darkness below and further darkness above, I had little option, if I expected to find a bed on which to lay, other than to continue my upward trek!
And at last the dizzying climb came to an end, as all things in this world eventually must, and I gratefully came face to face with a little withered door held shut by a deceptively small bar of iron which turned out to be quite the nuisance to lift. It was necessary for me to set down my dear candle on the topmost rung while I braced one knee against the wee door and gave a mighty shove. So firm was my grasp upon the bar that I was able to feel what was heretofore invisible to my eyes in the poor quality of light which was all I had to guide me. I could feel, bas relief style, letters or symbols or such, worked upon the iron of the latch.
The overwhelming strangeness of this house struck me again, like a fist to the gullet, and thoroughly shattered my earlier calm. Damn it, morbid or not, there was something ghastly with all this, I could feel it stronger than before. Horrid crimson rags for curtains, windows over sized beyond any attempt at aesthetics, monstrous pillars and nauseous, tilted staircases, and now a door bolted from without, when reason implied any lock be made for within ... what delirious archetique had designed such a place, and, it begged to be asked, WHY? Whose nightmare was this?!
Then I reasoned, as young men do, how years ago the nouveau rich had made their exodus from London City, preferring to set up their petty kingdoms elsewhere in order to indulge their eccentricities. Without breeding and background, many were possessed of more coin than taste, and the resulting constructions oft reflected this lack of good sense. Some mansions, so I had heard, were atrocious in the extreme. It appeared I had chanced upon one of them.
Still, the fury of the storm which raged ceaselessly beyond these walls, the sickly unwholesome appearance of the neighborhood, the rotted and ruined village with such fantastic a name, all of these things niggled at the back of my mind like worms in the mud and were kept firmly, though reluctantly and with ever increasing vigor, by the creature comfort of my lonely little candle and the thought of a soft bed. Tomorrow, I assured myself, the day would dawn clear, perhaps my nag was even now awaiting her master, and tomorrow, I repeated firmly in my skull, tomorrow I would be clear of this nervous adventure. TOMORROW morning, at dawn's first break, I should be on my way to Edinburgh where I would enjoy a hot bath and a hotter plate of kippers and eggs. My nervous adventure would grow marvelous in the telling, and Sarah, sweet comely Sarah, would sit at my knee round the hearth and hang breathless on each detail of this night's adventure!
With false, deliberate resolution, candle in hand, I ducked my head as I crept my way into the tiny room at the top of this otherworldly place. Something quick and strange and decidedly wrong came rushing out of the dim confines, straight at my booted foot like an arrow shot from a bow, and, in less time than it takes to make up one's mind, I brought my boot down hard on the wretched thing and felt a sickening 'pop' as whatever it was ceased to be. A wave a nausea rolled through the pit of my stomach, and I bent over, candle lowered, fully expecting an unfortunate mouse to have been the victim of human reflex.
Instead, I was confronted with the plump and revolting visage of a tremendous SPIDER, greyishly white and unpleasant as the underbelly of a dead fish, now crushed and oozing in a distorted heap at my feet. Hurriedly, with that deliberate absence of thought at which I was becoming quite adept, as my situation was so unwholesome as to forbade close examination, HURRIEDLY I kicked it aside and under the desk from which I now write.
Here I will describe the room that I found, many days ago I think, the room in which I shall exume my last breath, the room with the desk and cobalt blue bottle of mummified ink, the room with the greasy quill with it's grey plume half eaten by time. The room with the crimson floor that matches the ghosts of long ago curtains still hanging by a breath in the downstairs rooms. A crimson floor of some unknown stone that manages to fascinate and revolt under layers of centuries old dust. The room that sits at the top of the weirdly canting stairs which stretch too high, a room that shouldn't exist according to the rules of physics and time and distance as we know them. A room already OCCUPIED by creatures from another plane.
Spiders, they look to me. Awful, clever spiders!
Unlike the downstairs rooms, there is happily but a single window, for that is all sanity allows. It is long and thin and narrow, deeply sunk in sweating stone walls that have no corners. A narrow slice of a window through which I can see ANOTHER WORLD, a world where an unknown sun shines eerily with violet light. A world populated with all manner of strange and forbidden creatures that have no place on Earth, wherever that may be.
Sometimes, when madness overtakes me and I am almost made joyful with the release from the constraint of sanity, I look out this evil window and marvel at the sights revealed. Thank God there are bars upon this window! Thank merciful GOD in his wisdom that the only creatures SMALL enought to fit between the bars are the blasted Spiders, or whatever blasphemous name they go by.
For ugly, horrid, mind destroying things are OUT THERE, in this other world, this other dimension of hellish reality! Things dark and huge and mishapen that sometimes block the violet sun, things that cast a shadow dark as any midnight. Things that lumber and cause the room to tremble with their passage! And there is more, so much more I haven't strength or ink enough to tell.......
My hand is leaking a puss-like fluid that fouls the once beautiful paper on which I write! And my poor arm is now swollen too! The very pain brings me near faint, or perhaps it is hunger and thirst that makes me swoon?! No matter, this, for I am young and determined to speak my peace, and speak it I shall until the end is upon me. I remember the door closing behind me, by what agency I can only guess. The panic of that instant eats away at my brain, and the horrible knowledge that the door had been REBOLTED from outside!!!!
Did the cunning horrible spiders do this? Did they trap me in their lair? I imagine enough of them could work in unison...what do they call it? A hive mentallity? I studied something near to that at Oxford. Years and years ago, though it was only six as a sane man measures time.
But I think, no....I AM CERTAIN, certain that the Spiders, bloated and viscious and feral as they are, lured me to my doom! I hear them whispering on the other side of the tiny door. Their thickly sluggish bodies, slow and ponderous like gas-puffed corpses, are only a trick and they can move quite quickly when they so desire! It sounds at though thousands of them are sliding across the tiny door with the bolt I shall never raise. They are whispering about me......
The one that bit me is dead! So two I have dispatched to Hell, and I hope the Mighty Cloven One chokes upon his minions!!! The one that bit me, ohhh!! How I tremble to see in my fragile mind's eye the memory of it rushing out of the recesses of the desk, and hurling it's swollen form at the poor arm that had the misfortune to be a rest for my weary head! I shrieked like no woman has ever screamed, yet the nasty thing had already worked itself into my sleeve and bit savagely through the gentleman's lace of my cuff. My wrist, where the thing sunk its razor teeth, is now so putrid with infection that the original wound is hidden by the diseased flesh surrounding it! My arm is such that I scarce claim it as my own.
I pause upon my ramblings, for a sickly scraping has come sounding at the window, the window with bars closely fitted and thrust deep within it's frame. The window that now stands between myself and something too sublimely terrifying for this fevered mind to bear! Something blocks the watered violet light and rattles at the bars! There is something fiendishly desperate beyond the narrow window for the scraping grows more determined by the moment and I dare not turn my head!
Dear Lord, I pray, let this moment be at an end and deliver me into thy goodness!!!
This unholy nightmare can not be borne much longer! I feel my reason falling into tatters, and with it's loss comes a hideous urge to face my nameless foe. I am writing madly, the quill trembles in my fist, as I fight body and soul to denounce He who calls me to it!
A bilious stench has filled the room! I am near mindless with terror for just NOW I hear the first bar SNAP and the thing, whatever UNHOLY and frightful denizen of hell is at those bars, whatever grossly created and misbegotten creature spawned in the sickly violet dimension that lies nowhere near my own sanely gentle Earth, whatever THING THEN it is that paws upon those bars, will soon find entrance into this portal, this room from somewhere ELSE and then I must go MAD!!!!
Perhaps it is madness, perhaps it is not.....but another bar has snapped and I hear sinister giggling that does not come from my own frothing lips! And the thin and sickly violet light grows fainter by the moment! Oh Heavenly Father and Blessed Virgin, I go to try the door this ONE LAST TIME......................
postscript dated 18th of August, the year of Our Lord 1899
To Henry Hollingsworth Drury, Esquire
Dear Sir........We would like to offer you this update of your son, Charles Henry Drury. Mr. Drury's condition is still precarious, yet he seems to be responding favorably to the ministrations of those good hands at Our Sisters of Patience. The infection in his right hand remains stubborn to treatment. However, it is noted that the brain fever shows signs of abating and with this, we feel optimistic regarding his full and eventual recovery.
However, a missive found in his reticule by one of the Sisters has caused some concern with members of the staff. We have enclosed it for your perusal. As I am certain you are aware, it is not uncommon for great illness to produce moments of delirium, yet the very nature of the enclosed missive is of an unsettling nature, to put it mildly.
Your son, Mr. Drury, is a young man and young men are oft prone to imagination. Why his poor and fevered brain wove such a tail of horror is something we should like to examine closely in the future. Perhaps Mr. Drury was already of a morbid nature, prior to his misadventure?
At any rate, having found the aforementioned missive, it shed great light upon his feverish ramblings. In an effort to set his mind at ease, we have sent unbeknownst to him for the caretaker of Darke Manor. It is hoped the surprise visitor can offer reassurances as to the gentle nature of the old place and its lands, and help to dispel what residual fixations his misadventure may have impressed upon his youthful mind.
Our own good Sister Martha has made a generous offer to accompany Mr. Drury on an outing to Darke Well, where he may then see for himself how unfounded his fevered recollectums are, when his health has improved to warrant such outings.
With your permission, Sir, we shall continue to do all that God and man allows to restore your son and heir to his rightful constitution.
Respectfully, Robert Anthony Hillers, physician and director
Our Sisters of Patience Hospital, Edinburgh