Grimstone Castle

A ghostly, gothic tale about a spooky, haunted castle...

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1. Grimstone Castle

Grimstone Castle

Night was falling like a damp, suffocating cloak as a battered campervan swung into the sweeping entrance to Grimstone Castle, lit by a shaft of sepia moonlight.  Fat, icy raindrops started to lash down on the windscreen and the wind’s howling jaws were savagely ripping the remaining few gashed and bruised leaves from the skeletal oak trees, which lined the cobbled driveway.

As the Ferrara family clambered anxiously out of the camper, the castle’s ethereal barn owl shrilly hooted an ominous welcome. Her saucer eyes looked menacing as she swivelled her translucent snowy head from her gargantuan perch on top of a monstrous, ivy clad gargoyle.

As James turned the latch, the gnarled timber door slowly creaked open like an arthritic old man and a dank smell coiled around them. He flicked on his torch to reveal a gloomy stone hallway and floor sprayed with silver snail graffiti. Jenny followed anxiously behind her husband with their twelve year old son Harley.

After a candlelit supper by the fireplace, the family zipped themselves into their cosy sleeping bags and soon James and Jenny were fast asleep.  Harley, however, had other ideas. Armed with a small oil lamp, he headed off into the darkness.

 As he climbed the creaky stairs to the turret, he was momentarily startled as a black kitten with luminous green eyes jumped out in front of him. Although it had a friendly face there was something about his new feline friend that made him feel slightly uneasy. Nevertheless, he was determined to venture on.

After a tense fifteen minutes or so, the creature came to an abrupt halt outside a foreboding looking door in the turret and started to mew. Harley took a deep breath and cautiously turned the handle. The kitten flew into the room and Harley followed behind, clutching the lamp tightly. To his sheer disbelief, the ghostly figure of an old Victorian woman wearing a black dress and veil hovered in the centre of the room. Below her, was a four poster bed where a little girl appeared to be sleeping peacefully.  Harley pinched himself.

Suddenly, the air around him froze, the oil lamp flickered and the old woman cackled like a witch.  Her whole demeanour had abruptly changed. Harley noticed that she was now clutching a dagger in her left hand and floating towards him.  Her veil had disappeared to reveal a hideous toothless hag with long, shocking white hair which was on fire.  As he tried to flee, smoke filled the room and a ring of hissing, Medusa like flames engulfed the wall around the door, which slammed shut in his face.  The terrified child screamed blue murder, yet not a sound left his lips. A minute later, the flames mysteriously vanished but hot ashes smothered the floor. With tears streaming down his petrified face, he hammered on the door until the bones on his knuckles were visible.

The sun was now beginning to filter through the immense oval stained glass window, as Harley finally plucked up the courage to look round. The woman and cat had vanished but the girl was still asleep. She appeared to be about 8 years old, had a radiant, cherubic face and curly golden hair.  Harley thought she looked like an angel and breathed a sigh of relief before quickly recoiling in abject horror: lying on the pillow was a grotesque, severed mummified head.  It’s contorted, gaping mouth was crawling with rotting maggots and the stench of death sucked the air from Harley’s lungs.

With a racing heart, he suddenly awoke and his eyes snapped open. The relief on his face was insurmountable. It had been a bad dream. Jenny was tenderly stroking his hair and wiping the sweat from his feverish brow. Neither of them had noticed the kitten sitting at the end of Harley’s sleeping bag, licking her blood stained paws.

One day in early spring, Harley was exploring the castle gardens when he came across a disused well.  As he peered inside, his body suddenly lurched forward and the next minute he was plummeting towards the depths.

In a daze, he found himself standing on the outskirts of some woods. He had a bump the size of an egg on his forehead and was bruised all over, not to mention freezing cold and soaking wet.  Storm clouds were brewing overhead and suddenly the heavens opened.  He headed towards a sycamore tree to seek shelter and collapsed in an exhausted heap.  Soon he was fast asleep, unaware of the beady eyes staring down at him.

As Jenny frantically searched for her son, a blood curdling scream rang out, reverberating across the village of Penshurst.  A gigantic raven had sunk its razor sharp beak into Harley’s leg and was frantically tearing strips of milky white flesh, sinew and muscle from his skinny bones.  With its belly full, the frenzied creature flew off in the direction of the castle.

In a state of shock, Harley staggered to his feet and dragged himself towards a signpost which pointed towards a church. A medieval peasant with purplish boils all over his face appeared holding some sort of primitive pitchfork. It was clear that he couldn’t see Harley. The boy watched intently as the peasant dug a deep hole by the signpost. After about half an hour, he pulled a tattered piece of paper from the ground.  As if on cue, the bloodthirsty raven reappeared and landed beside the man, frantically flapping its enormous wings. Its beak was bright crimson. The man screamed and fled in a blind panic, dropping the paper in his haste.  Harvey quickly snatched it, stuffed it into his pocket and dived into the churchyard, where he hid behind a tombstone until the coast was clear.

The church was empty apart for a solitary Benedictine monk whose head was bowed in prayer. Nervously, Harley approached him. At first the monk was frightened at the sight of the strange boy but soon realised that he meant no harm.  He miraculously produced a bandage and some yarrow from a pouch in his robe. The yarrow was used to disinfect Harley’s injured leg, then the monk applied the bandage. Harley thanked him and the monk smiled surreally, pointing to some stairs before vanishing.

In the basement, Harley found himself in a gigantic, rat infested burial vault piled high with human bones.  A shiver crept down his spine as a clanking sound pierced the chilling silence.  A suit of armour had suddenly come to life and was heading straight towards him, brandishing a sword. As Harley stepped backwards, his foot touched something waxy.  To his horror, he had stepped on the warm corpse of a recently deceased knight. As he screeched with fright, a family of hungry vampire bats swooped down from the ceiling and engulfed him.  Desperately trying to fend off the blood thirsty creatures, he noticed that the stonework on the wall to his right had almost been removed to expose what appeared to be a small trapdoor behind it.  Frantically, he ran towards it, got down on his hands and knees and started to prise away the rest of the stones as fast as he could.  In the nick of time, he managed to yank the trapdoor open and crawl safely through.

Harley now found himself in a beautiful rose garden, where a group of Victorian children were playing.  One of the little girls waved over and smiled.   A few moments later she joined him.   As they talked, past life memories came flooding back and recognition dawned. He remembered the infamous Countess of Wesley had strangled his beloved sister as she slept, before sadistically dismembering her body. (Eventually, she was tried as a witch and burnt at the stake at Grimstone Castle.).  And so, Mary led Harley to her overgrown grave and as she slowly faded into the spring morning, a tear trickled down his frozen cheek.

As Harley recovered in hospital from his leg amputation, concussion and pneumonia, a couple of mysterious strangers arrived at the hospital one afternoon and asked to speak to him.  His mother told him it was about the old map doctors had found in his jeans pocket.  Rumour had it they were eminent professors in medieval relics and artefacts.  It was also purported that one of them specialised in the Holy Grail. Harley’s parents seemed really excited but it was all gobbledy gook to him.  The last few weeks had been a nightmare and all he wanted to do was return to London and never set foot in Grimstone Castle ever again.

Meanwhile, it was nearly 2pm and a nurse would be arriving shortly to change his dressings. At one minute to, a pretty young nurse carrying a vase of pink roses breezed in and placed it on the table beside his bed. He had never seen her before in his life but there was something about her cornflower blue eyes and beatific smile that seemed strangely familiar.

(1,497 words)

 

Copyright © 2013 Anne D Morgan

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