The demented tale of how I died and the manor house that became my bane began one late autumn day, not many years ago. On this ominous day of days I obliged the invitation of a not-too-well-known acquaintance and visited his country homestead near the small seaside community of Shicksalville. I admit that I was quite surprised and truthfully relieved when I noticed that I was not the only person that Marcus Donnelly had invited to his old family manor, Fort Geheimnis. I heard through rumors amongst the visitors that the structure had once been a military epicenter during this-or-that war however many years ago. Curious to note, and which should have alerted me to any misgivings at that time, was that not one of Donnelly’s visitors actually knew the man beyond just as a mere acquaintance.
I, along with the rest of the guests, waited in a small drawing room not too far inside the entrance to Fort Geheimnis. It was here that our host appeared and bid us salutations.
“Greetings to my old family home,” said Donnelly with a crooked smile. Marcus Donnelly was a rather short and balding man with the slightest hint of a mustache. The multiple lines upon his face made it hard for me to discern any sincerity in his words. “You have my thanks for your attendance, however unsettling it may seem.” He spoke very precisely as if he were very carefully crafting each word as he spoke. His use of the word “unsettling” was indeed just that, unsettling.
Everyone rose from their seats to greet him, and then we gathered together for a tour of the old fort. I was not feeling quite social so I lagged toward the rear of the procession, where my less-than-amiable mood would not translate to the group. I should have followed my mood that morning and stayed at home. Surely a letter expressing my deepest apologies for not attending would have sufficed in my absence. But alas, I knew myself not and made the trip into the country.
Donnelly led the group in a rehearsed manner, pointing out random objects of interest along the way. I, personally, did not care fort he two century old stone stronghold. The ancient masonry work was wearing away and the high boxed ceilings gave the interior a hollowed-out feeling, which left me the sensation of being small and vulnerable. Or perhaps, under the influence of my mood, I only interpreted it effect so.
We were part way through the tour when I realized that my left shoe had become untied. Falling further behind, I knelt down to correct the problem. I would just have to catch up with them. When I returned to standing, I noticed the last of the visitors passing through a heavy wooden door at the end of a corridor. As I approached the now closed door, I clearly heard the lecturing of our host on the other side. Quickly I pushed the door ajar, only to find no one there.
I looked around, thinking I may have been mistaken, but this was clearly the only door at the end of a long corridor. Fearing that I had fallen further behind than I had previously thought, I recrossed the threshold. The heavy wooden door slammed shut as a crack of thunder. Lights flickered on all around me and I saw that I had entered a long hallway. I could not for the life of me see where it led.
The hallway was dark, gloomy, and confined. At various intervals along the wall hung ill looking portraits of old generals that surveyed passersby. The paintings were quite curious, I noticed, as I walked up to one near where I had been standing. The brass label beneath read the engraved name of General Shicksal, for whom the town nearby was undoubtedly named. I could not help to think that the late General was giving me a mocking smile. “How rude,” I thought, “for the artist to covey such an unpleasantry upon his face.”
But the General obviously knew something that I did not. Fearing that I may never reach the tour, I left the painting and hurried along the hallway until I realized that it seemed to go on forever. “Donnelly surely could not have gotten this far ahead” I thought to myself. Really, I had only stopped momentarily.
I felt anxiety rise within me like the tide and I weighed my options. I had no clue as to where the hallway led, but I knew for sure that I could go back and simply leave the house. I turned around and began retracing my steps. After some time of heading back, I concluded that I should have had already reached the heavy wooden door. Finally I reached the portrait of the mocking general, which I knew the door would be shortly after. But the door was not there. “What an evil trick to play on one who has not come to stay,” I said aloud, more to the general than anyone in particular. Then I decided that I was acting brashly and had somehow gone askew. The only way out was surely through. Rationalizing to this plan, I turned around and proceeded ahead, hoping that the tour would end.
Time passed again, and again I reached no end to the hallway. I began to grow weary, if not from the stress of captivity, by the exhaustion of walking for such a time. I decided to sit on the carpet with my back against the wall to rest before I carried on. “Halfway I must now be to the sea,” I spoke aloud once more. “Surely someone will come looking for me.” Half in a dream and half in despair, I was suddenly awake. A noise broke the air. Footsteps and they grew fainter as they moved away. Not realizing my motions or motives, I rose and rushed toward the sound of feet, only for them to seem further away. I had no control over myself as I followed the sound further and further. Then suddenly, as quickly as they had come, the noise of footsteps ceased. I, too, stopped to regain my breath and composure. Silly it was to follow my mind’s attempt at escape.
My situation grew stranger, for as soon as I had ceased running, I began to hear faint voices behind me growing louder. I shouted “Hello” into the distance from which I had come. “If this is some joke, I dare say, it has run its course,” I shouted. “Could you please direct me to the nearest door?” No reply was given, only more whispers farther away. My nerve failed me in that moment and I sprinted after the voices I swore I had heard. I ran farther I felt than I had previously, but never found the source of the voices. Just as with the footsteps before, the voices abruptly stopped, as did I. Exasperated, I glanced to my right and saw none other than the mocking portrait of Shicksal. “Have I or am I going mad in this place,” I again said aloud to no one but the general. “Surely there is more than one portrait of this man in this space.” I sat on the floor opposite the likeness of Shicksal and stared him in the eyes. The general stood unmoved and soon broke more of my nerve.
Time passed and as if I had awakened from a dream, I was alert and resolved to walk on in hopes that the hallway would end and I would be free. More time passed and I began to wonder if I was even moving. To my deepest distress, I peered down and realized that I indeed, was not moving, but how? I questioned myself if I had moved at all from the spot where I had begun. I felt a cool rush of air over my right shoulder and turned to see General Shicksal glaring down at me; mocking me; hating me. I jumped back in horror and cursed the portrait. Whether through rage of hatred or lapse in sanity, I took the pen out of the breast of my jacket and drew a large “X” over the General’s face. “Keep your secrets and be damned!” I yelled with ferocity. “Whether you are my imagination or some specter of torment, leave me sad!” I breathed proudly as I put my pen away.
I felt another rush of cool air pass my left ear and was startled cold. I fear that my nerves got the better of me, fearing that I had offended some spirit, and I took off running away from the portrait. That time I made sure to look behind me to ensure that I was indeed moving. The cool air rushed by me again and I froze. “Where are you specter?” I screamed in fear. “Hide not you heckler!” I turned to my left to see the defaced portrait of General Shicksal, yet his likeness was now on the opposite side of the hallway. “This cannot be for you were back where I left thee!” I stared at the picture obsessively, as if I were waiting for it to react; a true sign of my madness.
I opted to sit once again. My dementia became more apparent as the lights around me began to dim and I was swept off into a dream. In the dream I was running. Running fast. I awoke abruptly to find the hallway completely lit, but something was amiss. I looked up to notice the X over the General’s visage had gone. I looked around, completely perplexed by this new mystery. Surely someone must have come by and switched the painting. “Hello!” I shouted. “Is anyone there? Why do you torment me so, someone you do not know?” I became hysterical and looked around in all directions for any sign of life. “Show yourself putrid demon!” I screamed in rage. I screamed in torment. At the very end and top most pitch of my last wail all light in the hallway was extinguished, plunging it into complete and utter darkness.
All was silent. I could not see. I could not breathe. So I waited in suspension…for something…anything. The familiar surge of cool air rushed past me and came back again. I then heard something…someone, whispering to me. The voice was cold, old, angry, and raspy. “None who enter…” it breathed with decay “…shall ever leave.” The voice hissed a chill deep into my spine causing me to shudder in horror.
“Who are you,” I answered back in a whisper. “Why are you?” At this the air became heavy and felt the temperature increase considerably. Soon it was far too hot; uncomfortable. In the darkness and heat, a sense of claustrophobia engulfed me. My breathing quickened to near hyperventilation.
“Why do you disturb me so…and desecrate my portrait so?” the voice hissed to me.
I grew frustrated and summoned the courage to answer. “You have held me captive long enough,” I screamed at the darkness. “I have been at the hands of your cruel torment long enough!” The lights flickered on for a split second and shut back off. Just long enough for me to see the General’s wicked eyes peering down at me in fury.
“Not…long…enough,” roared the voice as an icy rush of air enveloped me, stealing my breath and chilling me to the bone. At this fright, I ran away. The air was still around me. I could feel my legs moving, yet the air did not. I broke a sweat as I pressed on and my adrenaline increased. I could not see anything around me and if it had not been for the cold mass of air that surrounded me, I would have been boiled by the heat. After what seemed like a lifetime, and still hearing the voice in my head, I felt like something had let go of me and the cold air left me. I could finally feel myself running, yet the air grew painfully hot. I increased my sprint to the point where I felt my body nearly parallel to the floor, my head leading me. I could hear laughter behind me…my specter tormenting me. I had to get out.
I continued running, determined to flee. Without a sliver of light, the hallway remained dark. “Do you want out?” the voice shouted. “Here you go!” I had no time to respond to this before I rammed head first into the dead-end wall of the hallway; snapping my neck and killing me instantly.
Many years have passed since then and Fort Geheimnis now sits vacant, hiding my horrible fate…the doom of Edgar Scott.
Copyright Jerry Givens 2015 | All rights reserved