MONTCALME



 


To Gilbert Derry
October 11, 1972

Gil,

I know that asking you to take care of my estate is a difficult task. And I am profoundly sorry that I will not be here at this time to help you, I have the utmost faith in your strength and perseverance. I wish only that your parents had lived long enough to see the strong man you have become. They would be so proud of you and your successes, of that you can be assured.

Now we must move to the task at hand. As it was stated at the formal reading earlier today, I have left you the townhouse in Queen's Park as well a tidy sum of money. However, there is one piece of this business that has no doubt left you in a bit of a quandary: that being the matter of 'Montcalme'. Let us dispense of the few bits of fact surrounding it that are simple enough to explain. First, it is a 135-acre estate in the north of France that now belongs to you. Second, the estate derives its name from the hill named 'Montcalme' (literally 'Calm Mountain', it is neither) on the southern end of the property. Third, there is no house on the estate, though, at one time in the not so distant past, there was. Fourth, I ask that once a year, on St. Anthony's day you pay the parish priest a small sum to bless the grounds of the old chateau. I would never place such a burden upon you without explaining my reasons for it, so what remains of this letter is my best and true account of the reasons behind how we came to possess and ultimately must try to retain 'Montcalme'.

In the spring of '25 I was not as you knew me, I was just a simple teacher. I was also a veteran of that 'Great' war and I reaped the rewards of my sufferings in a perpetual state of alcohol fueled celebration and jazz music.

I will say this about the war and continue with the story: I was ashamed of my behavior in battle. I had expected fear in me, and there was a little of that, but honestly, there was more, something of a bloodlust, or 'lustmord' as the Germans call it. I enjoyed it; I took pleasure in the kill. Man cannot be blamed for his behavior in war, but I drank away those bleak memories, as so many others of my day did. But this celebration eventually took its toll on my ethic and teaching position at University.

It also pushed me dangerously close to not being acceptable enough to marry your grandmother. Faced with this uncertainty, I spent a depressingly long summer break with my best friend Alex by my side, (a man is lucky to have at least one friend he thinks of as his brother; the man who has no such friend is a hollow man indeed), inside a bottle of bourbon with no real hopes of emerging. No hope that is, until I found out, quite unexpectedly, that I had inherited an estate in France!

You have no doubt guessed by now that the estate in question was Montcalme. I had always known that I had a French uncle named Pierre Derry; I had even spent a day in London with him when I was 10 (he struck me as a bit 'off' even at my tender age). However, it never occurred to me that he had such possessions or wealth, even more astounding was the question of why would he leave them to me? The answer was simply that I was the last of the Derry line.

Of Uncle Pierre himself I remember only that he was repellent in nature to my family, that they despised spending time with him, and subsequently he was never invited to attend family celebrations. I assumed that this was because he was a distant relative, and that he was obnoxious and rude in a way only an aging pariah can be.

I fear that I am carrying on with trivial details and not getting to the important matters of the story I need to impart. Let us speed up by saying, for whatever reasons, Alex and I struck upon the idea that, with a little sponsorship from his father, he and I would take sabbatical from school. I would spend 6 months or more on the estate, gathering information for a book about the region's history, and more importantly, how it was recovering a scant seven years after the war, and he would use Montcalme as a home base while studying the area's rich medieval architectural history for a book of his own. As for me, being an assistant professor in French History, this would be easy enough, but I could also add the unique perspective of being a soldier who himself had fought in this very region in that very war. This would allow me the opportunity of full professorship at a good university, and most importantly, fulfill all my requirements to marry Caroline.

Even Alex would get something out of this (though the book he wrote about the region went unpublished) and this way he could spend a fortnight from time to time with me while he made his tours. So it was decided and all plans were made, tearful farewells given and Alex and I found ourselves bound for my new estate the 5th day of July 1925.

There was little ceremony made over the estate, the barrister in the adjacent town had but two papers for me to sign before giving me the keys and ground surveys. He had little information as to the origins of the estate or why it had befallen me and beyond hints of lineage, he'd never even heard of me.

The road to the estate close to town revealed nothing of the surprising sights to be beheld further along, it was only after two miles that the way became completely overhung with ancient trees. If one drove on the main highway as fast as some cars do nowadays, the turnoff would be missed altogether. After a further half-mile or so, the road suddenly chicaned, the trees broke away to the sides the road and the estate was suddenly presented to the startled viewer.

The house itself was amazing. We turned from the main road and followed a oce splendid drive until it rolled a casual semicircle around the façade of the main building. We realized almost immediately that it was a chateau more than a house. It was quite large, more than I would ever need, and it had a style of design that I can best describe as resembling the palace at Versailles (though not nearly as grand in stature).

Alex placed it in the period of Louis XVI; the late 18th century. It was canary yellow in color; the plaster covering a bit chipped and faded in places by time, but wonderfully warm nonetheless. It was flat faced and perfectly symmetrical in front having a central doorway and two rows of 5 windows on either side. Every frame was done in carved wood in the shape of spinning columns, crested atop the by friezes in the shape of hand carved seashells. The roof was flagstone, cut to fit together like a jigsaw, and though some were cracking, it was in quite good condition considering.

After spending a few minutes lost in awe at my sudden windfall, Alex and I wandered in a circuit around the house. When we reached the side, the view of the estate opened up and we could see that an overgrown and neglected vineyard covered the whole of the nearby acreage. The vines were browned and tangled from lack of care, but it was apparent that it had been a hearty vineyard as recently as the start of the war. This continued for miles, as far as the eye could see, broken only by darkened forests and the occasional hill, and to the east and south, the bald top of Montcalme, stripped of trees and brush by years of bombing and entrenching during the war. Only wild brush grew there now; the knot of thorns that now brambled and spread across its top was more formidable to cross then any French or German pickets of 10 years past.

Before entering the house, we looked to survey it. Our plans would obviously be ruined if the chateau proved to be unlivable. Following the long disused garden path that encircled the house, we continued to the rear and discovered that the house was shaped as a 'T'. Alex explained to me (he being the expert) that this was an odd design for a chateau of the 18th century. The front of the house was the flat of the 'T', and the leg of the 'T' spread out almost the length of the façade. It was of the same canary yellow plaster, and it was mostly obscured by creeper vines and wild rose buses. One thing that was apparent however was that this part of the chateau was almost windowless, and the openings that were present were of an ancient style; tall and thinly slitted, as opposed to the more modern rectangular style.

This extension was clearly much older, but it took Alex's expertise to explain why. The base was made of local stone and mortar and had been covered in plaster as well, but somewhere in the past century, the plaster had cracked and come loose, exposing the original rock. The mortar between the rocks was fragile and crumbling to the touch, and the rocks themselves had blunt impact lines as if fashioned by rudimentary instruments. From these details, Alex surmised the events surrounding my chateau.

He explained that although fires were not common, in 400 years of an estate like this, they were not unheard of. He guessed from this evidence that an ancient chateau, at least from the 15th century, had once stood on the same spot. When it had burned, this section (perhaps a dining hall), having high, vaulted ceilings and being mostly made of stone, had survived the conflagration. The owners had more than likely decided to incorporate the hallinto the new construction. It all sounded quite reasonable to me, but I did wonder one thing: it wasn't a particularly attractive building, why didn't they simply knock it down?

That question was answered when we moved to the back of the chateau. As we stepped onto the patio, we beheld an amazing sight: the entire length and breadth of the west wall was made up of a gorgeous and completely intact stained glass window. Dominating the window was the figure of a knight upon a horse, obviously a very important figure to merit such a work in his honor. Archers soldiers and even pageboys on either side, with bows nocked, flanked him, forever at the ready to serve their master. There were several flags on poles and lying to the sides, along with broken armor strewn in the background; there were fires burning from a besieged city. The whole effect was to give this flaxen bearded warrior the look of conquering hero. And though the knight had a somewhat moribund and brooding look about him, the work was still a remarkable sight. It truly was one of the most astounding works of art I had beheld, and it was the sole reason, no doubt, that this part of the old chateau remained.

Alex and I stood spellbound, transfixed by the sensation that the finely painted eyes of the knight and his men seemed to follow us wherever we went. It was a distinctly disturbing effect. Recognizing that the window was meant to be appreciated from the inside (the paint was on the interior of the glass), and through the light of the setting sun. We decided that we would retire to this very room to witness the anticipated view.

Once inside we studied the heart of the chateau. The interior of the house was done in rococo style; every eave, every facing gilded with beautiful, but obviously flaking gold leaf. The ceilings were painted to give the appearance of open sky, complete with winged cherubs ascending to heaven. However, all of the rooms were sparsely furnished, my uncle no doubt having to sell the antique furniture to stave off his growing debts. The center of the house had a grand curved staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms, which were slightly more accommodating than the first floor rooms, but nonetheless very similarly barren.

On the first floor, behind the staircase, we were immediately struck by the great age of the original wing of the house. The wall behind the stair was of solid wood, heavy and dark from years of lacquer and wood smoke. This wall was most certainly of the old house, it had a massive solid oak door fitted roughly into it and held fast to the wall with massive wrought iron hinges. It sat in a recess slightly down from the floor of the front part of the house, and though it was well done, it was clear that the architects had to do a bit of jerry-rigging to get the two houses to fit together. Perhaps because of this it took a lot of effort and sweat for both Alex and I to force it open it.

Once inside, the dominating presence of the knight in the stained glass was undeniable. The sun had sunk further on the western horizon and its light streamed through the portrait, breathing an unearthly light into the warrior. He strode his horse in direct alignment with the beautiful and ancient feast table, his figure being an overpowering 12 feet tall. Even his attendants loomed larger than life. The single piece arrowheads resting in their quivers were the size of a man's hand. The impressive bows that each held in their right hand were of one solid thin piece of brown glass, an amazing 10 feet long. One would not have to gaze long before realizing the time and expense that went into the crafting of such a work.

Again, the foreboding eyes seemed to follow us throughout the room. Inside the building, the feeling was more profound, and this was probably its intended effect upon guests. More detail of the paint could be seen from inside, like how the lord's magnificent azure beard looked as though every hair had been painted on. There was even grit painted on his fingernails.

The rest of the hall was unremarkable in comparison. Directly opposite the stained glass wall was a little retirement niche, perfect for taking after dinner brandies, replete with a warm fireplace, a few bookshelves filled with various books and some comfortable reading chairs. It had a pleasant feel to it, the rest of the room did not, and I knew I would spend many hours here, whiling away the evenings pouring over the old books contained on the shelves. For the topic of my book, the regional history contained within these tomes would prove invaluable.

The hall took on an entirely different aspect as the sun set, streaming its light across the stained glass and filling the room and all its corners with every color of the spectrum. The effect was such that we felt as though we were inside a tinted nickelodeon, watching with utter amazement as the reflection of the knight's face, in perfect detail, tracked slowly across the room, finally resting on the fireplace and its mantle before fading with nightfall. I was instantly reminded of the hellish nights in Normandy during the final push of the war, when the night sky lit up with vibrant colors as the shells exploded around us.

Alex stayed with me another fortnight, popping off for a day at a time to absorb the history contained in the local monuments and abbeys. This period was a pleasant and restful one that offered many distractions from the constant thought of Caroline. I took this time to examine my new chateau. Mostly, I was left to clean up after my great uncle, who left the chateau in a state of shambles: books stacked everywhere, and as I had mentioned before, hardly a stick of furniture was left. As his mental state must have decayed, his funds must have run short, requiring him to sell his accouterment.

The kitchen was largely functional for domestic needs, but left most habitable and welcoming was the great hall. Every other room, though habitable, was in no real state to spend time in. As a result I gravitated to that room and spent my working hours in the alcove. The large fireplace made the area seem like less of a niche and more a room unto itself. I spent hours studying the rare collections of volumes there, using many of them as references for my book.

The most intriguing of the collection was a book called La Naissance et la Mort Tragique de Brittaine; La Premiere Famille, or The Birth and Tragic Death of Brittany; The first (or Best) Family. It was originally written by a Portuguese Jesuit named Rodrigo in 1656 and translated into French from Latin in 1705. Though it was dogeared with age, this 220-year-old book still could have kept my uncle in good comfort for a few months, had he ever chosen to sell it.

Latin translated into early 18th century French is a slow go, but the attention to fact and detail exhibited by this abbé, along with his prosaic flow, made it an interesting read. The first few chapters spoke mainly of the War of the Roses, paying special attention to the damage done in northern France, weighing the human costs of the conquering and re-conquering that occurred. Of course it delved heavily into the value of both the real and mythological Joan d'Arc, not only of her value as a soldier and leader of men, but of her iconic, soon to be sainted status, with the populous.

The book dealt with her support staff, touching upon the military greatness of some of them, but mainly it looked to the vast social and economic damage visited upon this region by years of bloody, grinding warfare. It turned out to be an excellent comparison with the Great War, as in some cases, the effects of specific economies, industries and pastoral cultures were nearly identical.

I passed much of the summer this way, spending hours devouring historical information, and making notes, taking only a few days off when Alex would return to make rest after a few straight weeks of 'study'. Work was progressing rapidly for me, which only encouraged me the more, and soon I was referencing several books in the collection, but always, there was the one, the jewel of my library, the book that merited two, three, sometimes five hours a day of translation at a single sitting.

As my own form of relaxation from work, I would take walks upon the estate. The summer and fall days were remarkably pleasant after 6 PM, and the sun would hang in the sky for what seemed hours at least. The August hot air melted into September's night breezes, and the days still passed idylically but full and fulfilling, spent behind the books or on the trails.

It was in September that things began to change at the house. One night, early in the month, I had my first visitation by a 'spirit' of the manor, and as for the phrase 'visitation by a spirit', I can put it no less bluntly than that. To attempt to wrap the appearance of the specter in a blanket of hyperbole would act to remove the profound and overwhelming surprise caused by its appearance.

Alex had been back at the estate for a few days, and we had fallen into quiet routine. He was an early morning fellow, something I could never be. After he retired for the evening, I settled back into the comfortable leather chair that had become my center of study in the great hall. I read from La Naissance until the wee hours. Up to this point, nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, so as I began to nod off in the chair, facing the tall glass window, I thought nothing of the strange things occurring in the stained image. I wrote it off as my mind beginning to play tricks on me, for I swore that one of the pageboys left his bow and disappeared from the picture. Before I had closed my eyes, the page was there on the right of his liege, but once I opened them again he was gone. I would have investigated this matter further had I not droped off immediately after.

I know not how long I slept before the noise awoke me, but to my body it felt like half the night at least. The moonlight streamed through the stained glass window from high in the sky, and the temperature had dropped substantially. I was about to drift off again when I heard the noise repeated, this time more clearly. I looked around, thinking Alex was in the room, for the sound was human. I heard it yet another time, this time from the kitchen but coming closer. I could tell now that it was a word, but I couldn't make it out through the walls. I again assumed it was Alex, up early, and I prepared to get a few more hours of sleep in a bed. As I put my arms on the chair to push myself out, I heard it again from around the corner, and the sound froze me in my tracks. The voice was NOT Alex's.

This time I had heard it precisely, a young man's voice, coming from the open hall between the kitchen and the great hall. The voice said "château", I supposed in reference to Montcalme. I refused to move, expecting to see a thief at any moment walk around the corner looking for loot. Hopefully he wouldn't notice me here, but being this was the only part of the room that contained anything in it at all, it was only a matter of time before I was discovered. I looked about for any sort of weapon that would aide me, but only the fire poker presented itself, and it was at least 10 feet away. I was helpless.

I held perfectly still, waiting with dread for the thief's appearance, when to my even greater surprise a small child, of all things, dressed in a white bed cloth came around the corner, directed by a man not many years his senior. I didn't dare move as they approached, even when I realized that this creature was the pageboy from the stained glass window! There was no other answer than I was looking at the ethereal bonds of two who had departed from this world centuries ago. As they passed before me, my fears were confirmed. Although both appeared solid, when they crossed between myself and the moonlight, I could see through them to the wall behind!

I was closing in on panic and had I not found anything more substantive than vapors to grasp to, I fear I would have succumbed under the pressure. Luckily, the specter spoke again, the page to the child, repeating the word 'chateau' to him. This gave my mind something to process; a word, a function my brain could manage, and this pulled me back from the brink of madness. Upon hearing the word so closely and unencumbered by walls, I realized that it wasn't 'chateau' , but 'gateau', which means 'cake'. He wasn't commenting on the house, but more likely offering the child a sweet and leading him to it.

My mind worked over this piece of tangible information in a heartbeat. It is amazing how quickly information is processed by the mind in times of need or strain. Perhaps when these two had existed, they had shared a birthday surprise, I thought. Perhaps this was the son of the knight in the stained glass. Perhaps a table had been laid out here by the fireplace at one time and they had shared a dessert on it.

They continued walking toward the fireplace and again, the page spoke: 'Il y a gateau…' ('There is cake…'), confirming my first opinion, but the rest of the sentence changed my view of the event, shaking me to my core. '…Vers le bas ici, avec moi, mon doux enfant' ('…Down here, with me, my sweet child'). As he spoke, he turned the smiling child toward the fireplace, holding firm to him, a broken smile coming across the page's face the likes of which I have only seen once before, on the faces men mad with battle.

With that, they disappeared, heading downward into the fireplace. One cannot tell how long I stayed frozen in the chair, perhaps an hour, but to me it felt as if the spectral visitors had just left. Though they hadn't even noticed me as they passed within mere feet of me, I feared for my life. I knew that what I had just witnessed was no birthday treat. I knew from the look on the pageboy's face that the room he led the child into was likely the last room that child would see. I knew now that I had witnessed an imprint of a very old and very real past traumatic event.

Though they were gone, I could still feel a sinister presence in the room, one that had perhaps been there all along, but now was revealing itself because my senses were so much more attuned now. My mind raced back to the event. Why had he murdered that child? I knew why; he had enjoyed it, I'd seen that look in men's eyes before, I had even shamefully felt it during some assaults in the war, but why a child? Surely he could have slaked that thirst on the battlefield. How could he murder in the chateau without the lord of the manor finding out? The child would certainly have to have been a stranger to him. There would be too much risk to kill a neighbor's child. There were certainly plenty of stray orphans during that time, that part would have been easy enough, but again, how could he have done this successfully right under the master's nose?

As I pondered this I could not move. The presence was still building in the room, pinning me with fear to my chair, paralyzing me. It wasn't until I looked at the window that I found the strength to move, and then only to flee in terror. The pageboy had returned to the glass, and he was looking straight at me.

Alex had just awoken when he first saw me. Through the dawn's light he could see me standing outside, my back turned to the house, away from the horror of what I'd witnessed. I was still deep in thought, watching the last night stars disappear from the sky when he came out to meet me with morning's coffee in hand.

I immediately explained to him the events that had transpired scant hours ago, sparing no detail. He remained skeptical of my tale, but not of my belief in it. He did not think I was lying to him, rather that it was probably a waking dream, a vivid nightmare, brought on by too much work or too much wine. He calmly explained to me that one of the page boys had always looked at us from his perch in the stained glass window, and though I did not think so, after much discussion my recollection became bent to the point that I could not longer decide which page boy looked away, or if both did, or none at all. My fear was still great, but I had a confidant with me, I managed to accompany Alex back into the Great Hall.

In the morning light the page's stare was much less threatening, almost soft. Despite my embarrassment, or perhaps because of it, I found the stares of the page and the knight to be almost quizzical, as if they were confused by why I should be so fearful of them. For the record, the other page looked away, towards the woods. I felt silly, like a child who had been startled by a ghost story. None of the malevolent presence I had felt just a short time ago remained; already the room had a warmth about it that made me want to ignore my trepidation and stay for breakfast. Perhaps Alex was right, I thought, perhaps I had a waking nightmare after all. Besides, had it been a real ghost, why would he have walked into the fireplace, hardly a place to be discreet. Still, those words echoed in my mind: 'Vers le bas ici…'

My mood improved with each bit of news received at breakfast. Alex had been planning to leave that day, and would have been gone for another fortnight, but given the events of the night, he decided to cut the trip to a week's time. Adding to the good news, he promised to take my notes and writings and review them. Not only was this of great value to my book, but it also meant that I got a much needed and earned week off from work. Whatever meager happiness this brought me was short lived, however. The strange apparitions were not finished with me, nor were they content to be contained within the house.

Having no work to be done and still being a little bit trepidatious, I avoided the great hall. I passed the first two days in idle activity. I walked the breadth of the vineyard the first day, packing a picnic, heading west on the vineyard road. I continued for a mile before passing the old road as it left the vineyard road and struck off due south through the forest, passing by Montcalme's eastern side. The old road was very clear to see as it met up with the vineyard loop, but even from 200 yards, one could tell that it became pretty spotty as it passed into the forest.

I made a mental note to follow that path someday soon before I continued down the vineyard road. The second day was spent taking what little furniture and shelving that remained in the front of the chateau and devoting it to two of the fronts' nicer rooms. Though this made the house seem even more empty than before, it made part of the front, for the first time, entirely livable.

On the third day I awoke late. I had breakfast at lunchtime and lunch at tea time. By late afternoon, I was in a funk. Eating as close together had left me with a bloated belly. I decided the best course for that, as well as punishment for my sloth-like behavior, would be another walk upon the estate. So I packed up a little water and bread, a flask of brandy, a pack of Gauloises and made south from the house along the vineyard road.

It was nearing 5 PM before I hit the old road. It was the beginning of October, not too far into fall, which meant that I had a few hours of sun left. Having felt that a mile was not enough punishment, and having no desire to see acres of grapevines again, I took up the old road path. As I walked the road towards the edge of the forest, it was quite clear just how old the 'old' road really was. As the path passed over exposed rock, ruts could be seen, at some points a foot or more deep, carved into the rock from years of wagon wheels passing over them. It was hard to imagine just how wagons made it through the ruts, as they were up almost to where the axles would be. Perhaps this was the ultimate reason why the road was abandoned for the one just a few miles east.

It took very little distance before I was in the forest. The canopies of the trees were not so dense at this time of year, and with every breeze that passed up the lane from the north more leaves let go of their tenuous grasp and fell. In the sunlight, it was still warm, but once the forest surrounded me, it became a little chilly. Despite the cold, the walk was refreshing and the forest had a beauty in it that made me wish that mother England had decided to keep just one forest still intact.

It was slow going at times, as it had rained the night before and it was hard to forge a path that did not run into mud. The road had been cleared in the past ten years (probably by the French Allies that held Montcalme, albeit briefly, during the war) and where it was cleared, the hard-packed clay developed a glaze of water and dirt that was quite slippery. The grassy middle between the ruts was still quite manageable, however, and it broke up so infrequently that it was not difficult to keep to a relatively dry path.

The forest was really an exceptionally beautiful thing. It presented as if it were a single organism, the birds chirped in rhythm to the beating of the earth under my feet, and the breath of the forest came down the lane from the north, and then as if by an eddy of the same wind it created, expelled ever so slightly back the way it came and into the surrounding woods. The feeling was to me as if I were a small creature, deep inside the wet, healthy lungs of some magnificent massive mythological beast. Deer could be heard moving not far off in the deep grasses and thickets. With no predators left, and no hunters on the estate for years, I could only imagine how fat, happy and abundant they must be. Chipmunks scrambled at my approach, racing through the fall leaves for safe haven.

After about an hour, I began to notice a change. The woods became more dark as the sun sank, the sounds of the creatures quieted, became less frequent. As the temperature fell, a mist came up from the dank ground. As ominous as It was quite a spectacle to behold, and since the road was so much lighter in color than the forest, I pressed on even as the mist became a light fog. An early harvest moon rose as I walked, and in the diffusing fog, provided excellent illumination. The moonlight streamed through the shadows of the trees, straight and fast; its' beams piercing the darkness like swords striking the ground.

I continued on in this soft light until I forded a brook that flowed under the road as it meandered through a clearing. I was only a little further down the road before a breeze blew from around the corner, and rolling in with it was a thick, impenetrable layer of mist. As it approached I turned to watch and in doing so, I stepped off the middle and onto the slippery wheel ruts. In my attempt to recover, I slipped even further, hitting my head on the ground. As I lay dazed in the mud, I felt the fog rolling over me. I found a stump to pull myself up to my feet,, I confess I could no longer tell north from south, my head spun so from the blow.

Rather than panic, I simply sat back on the stump and made ready to wait on the fog to clear. Though my head hurt I hadn't done any real damage and the pain soon passed. The forest was almost invisible around me, and I knew it was best to hold fast until I could see which way was home rather than risk venturing blindly into the mist.

I surmised twenty minutes had passed and I occupied this time by watching the constant sway of the fog to and fro as the wind blew. It carried down the road for four seconds, then paused and returned back for one. Four and one, four and one it went, more or less. I was watching this rhythm of the forest when my stupidity occurred to me: The wind had blown from the north in exactly the same manner as I was walking into the forest. The north must then be to the right, the present direction of the wind, so all I needed do was carefully find the middle of the path and return home with the wind.

I prepared myself and made a step for the road when I was accosted by an unearthly sound, emanating from the bowels of the earth. It sounded as if a cannon had been fired, but from deep under ground. A loud 'THOOOM!' it was, and with it, the birds scattered suddenly from their beds in the trees. I froze in my tracks while leaves dislodged by the rattle and the birds' departure fell slowly around me. No living thing could make such a sound. It came from the direction of Montcalme Hill, or so I guessed, and could not have been more than a half-mile away.

Bereft of any context, I used my experience in war to come up with a reasonable, rational explanation: if an old munition had gone off from deep in the churned mud it would sound similar. In the morning I would be able to see the result of it, a black steaming heap of earth surrounded by perfectly undisturbed shrub brush on the top of the mountain, and with that the matter could be put to rest. That was as good an excuse as any, and satisfied with my deduction, I prepared to make way again. Again it sounded, but this time much closer, and after a pause of maybe five seconds, the sound's wake could be seen passing through the fog, racing down the road until it passed by me and down the way, out of sight.

The odds of old munitions randomly going off a minute apart were exceedingly slim. With this realization the same sweaty, sickly feeling of fear from the other night welled up in me. This time, I was at least a little better prepared and I made ready to face it, or stand up to it as best I could. After all, the last ghost I had seen completely ignored me, why wouldn't this one? This one, as it turned out, would ignore me, but it was not the only visitor there.

I remained frozen, waiting to see what would happen next. The whole atmosphere was wild with the strangeness, even the wind had died, leaving the wet fog to hang heavy and still, like a deep, arial lake. With the dying wind no longer supporting it, the heavy fog began to pool at the ground. For the first time, I could get a look at my surroundings: the road bent around me running from my back right, where the brook was, passing in front of me and bending back to my left, disappearing into the thick and ever-present wood. Across from me seemed to be the very base of Montcalme, steep and gray, growing away and up out of my vision, reaching above the canopy of the trees. To the right of it, a little ivy covered clearing ran off for 30 feet before rejoining the forest.

I was startled to see a shape across the road in the clearing. It was small, and white. . . A little boy, wan and thin, dressed in shabby white bedclothes, more sheet than boy, stood sad and silent across the road from me.

I remained still, not wanting to startle him, but through the thin light, he simply stared at me. I took a step closer to him, asking him "who are you?" but he shrunk back from me. I recognized my error and replied again, this time in French: "Qui êtes-vous?". He made no verbal response, but seemed to loosen his stance. I seized upon the moment; I took two more steps closer, asking in French "Why are you here? Are you lost?" he said nothing still, but allowed me to get closer until I was a mere five feet from him.

I could see that his clothes were very shabby indeed, and out of style for the time. Perhaps he was the child of a gypsy camped not too far from here. He clearly knew of the path behind him because he had glanced back at it twice since I had first spoken.

"Can I help you, child?" I asked, not expecting a response. To my surprise he turned to the right and looked down the road. He lifted a wiry finger and pointing in that direction, he spoke very timidly, "Êtes-vous avec lui?" ("Are you with him?"). I could see now that he was frightened, more than likely by the thought of whomever 'him' might be than by my presence. "With whom?" I asked.

"Him." He said, becoming distressed in his inability to make clear the nature of 'Him'.

"Who is HIM?" I asked. "Where is he?" I could see nothing on the road, nothing where he pointed but mud, trees and fog.

"HIM!" he cried, and with that, the sound fired off again, shaking the very earth we stood on. We froze, placing our arms out instinctively, lest we fall. The sound wave rolled quickly across the fog and past us. I felt a shiver as it passed. Had I seen something in the fog? It was brief, but I swear it had a form to it.

"He is coming for me, he comes now!" he said, becoming upset. He began pacing in his place, shooting darting glances down the road and back.

"Who comes?" I insisted. "Where are your parents? Who comes?"

"HE comes!" He shouted. The cannon rang out again, trailing the boy's declaration, even closer than before. The child was becoming extremely strained; I could tell he was getting ready to bolt like a deer, straight into the forest. If I went after him and failed to grab him before we were into the woods, I would surely become lost. Still, I knew I must try, so I made a move to get closer, taking a soft step toward him.

He pointed down the road. "He comes!" He shouted. "He comes NOW!" and with that he sprung for the brush and the trail that ran back to the woods. I sprang with him, grabbing, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see the sound wave rolling through the fog, this time so strong it pushed it ahead. There were shapes in the fog, indefinable, indiscernible shapes, but shapes nonetheless; alive and moving in it like hands coming out of the surf. I closed my eyes as the wave approached, its white hands grasping at nothing, roiling over the top of the crest, frantically clutching at the air, desperate to find anything. Still stumbling after the screaming child who was mere inches in front of me, I made one last desperate lunge to grasp him. I thought that if I could only grab a hold before the blast hit us I could cover him, I could protect him from whatever was reaching out of the wind. The wave was nearly upon us. "He comes!" he wailed. "He Co—". A cold blast pushed through me, and I was knocked to the ground.

I held my head down for a second or two, upset that I had missed the child. However, I knew his fate before I looked up. When I did, I saw that the fog was gone, blown down the road like dirt swept out a door. I lay in the ivy about 10 feet from the forest path, but the boy was not the path, he was not anywhere to be seen. Where he had stood on the road, in the glazed mud, there were no footprints save mine, clear as day. He was not there; he had never been there at all.

I knew that the path into the forest would reveal some answers, but not tonight. I had no light by which to see, and I would be in a better way and safer in the daylight. I walked home along the path, trudging in the mud. I had lost the boy. Even though I had come to the conclusion that he was a specter from god knows when, and probably fell victim to the page boy on this very road over 500 years ago, I still felt that, realistic or not, I had a chance to save him from whatever torment awaited him tonight. I had failed, and worst of all, my dalliances had kept him there just long enough for the wind to come and take him.

There was no more sound, save the returning sounds of the night birds and the creatures of the forest, but even had there been a sound, I would not have been afraid. I was angry, too angry to be frightened anymore. I was angry with myself, angry with my situation, angry with everything, but mostly I was angry at the spirits. I was full of blind fury and I wanted to exact revenge on whatever demon would prey on children. I wanted to cry tears of rage. But how does one exact revenge on a ghost?

I returned to the chateau and violently kicked open the door. In the kitchen I snapped up a bottle of brandy; then stormed into the great hall and sat in the chair and poured myself a drink. I could feel that the knight was looking at me more intently than he had before. That only fueled my rage, and as the night progressed I spent it, staring the knight down, until dawn broke and I mercifully passed out.

The following day I did not rise until 2 PM. It did not matter when I arose, however, for another storm lashed the surrounding hills with steady strong rain all day. I spent thewhole day in the front of the house, nursing a bad head and working through theories about the house and the hills. Were the whole of the surroundings haunted? Just what kind of demonic pit had my uncle left for me? It explained his eccentricities. I imagined that had I spent an entire lifetime here, I too would have fallen into corruption. How much had my uncle known? Not the whole truth or he would have warned me. Unless he had been in league with the spirits, or come to embrace them. Whatever truth there was, I felt my uncle had known more than the locals had dreamt.

The following day dawned, and the sun, absent for so many days, returned. It was warm for late October and under other circumstances I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But the only thing that concerned me was getting back to the path in the woods. I left at noon, to ensure at least five hours of sunlight, but to allow for the ground to dry a little as well.

The old road was muddy and slick, but in the day, it was very easy to stay in the grassy middle. Eventually I made it to the brook, though I could hear it for quite some time before. It was running high, but it was clear that during some point recently, it had completely leapt its banks and drenched the area. There was detritus wrapped around the tree on the bank, some of it waist high. However, after doffing my boots and carrying them above my head, I crossed safely.

Just past the brook, I came to the scene. The ivy hid well any evidence of me ever having been there. In the day I could clearly see Montcalme hill rising up and away from me, a muddy monolith on its top, a granite Gibraltar on its base. There was no fresh mortar pit, no evidence of a recent explosion upon it. To the right of it lay the path into the woods, the same path to safety the boy had tried in vain to make the night before last. I took a deep breath and stormed forward, making sure to turn around and study my surroundings once I was a few yards into it. I need not have worried, it stayed but one path the whole time, and it was clearly used by the animals frequently, for it was broad and clear.

The path never strayed far from Montcalme hill, always keeping it to the left, always within a few hundred yards. Even with the thick woods, Montcalme hill was always visible, always close at hand. After perhaps a distance of a half-mile, the woods dissipated into a clearing, and this glade edged slowly downward to a pond, surprisingly clear, and not brackish. The brook rolled into it near the paths egress and continued out at the other end of the glade. The tall grass was matted from heavy rains, but the earth was hard below my feet and made for easy progress.

I knew immediately that this was the place the boy had tried to reach. The glade was large and backed right up to the cliff face of Montcalme. It had clearly been lived in from time to time, for though part of it was created naturally, there were cut stumps of trees around. Nearer to the cliff face there were even remnants of what looked to be a rudimentary shack. The midday sun streamed into the glade, covering most of the grass with a shimmering light. It was pleasant, and despite the turns of a couple nights ago, I felt a warmth and safety from this area.

I continued my investigation, searching the ground, starting with the edge of the pond. There were fire circles exposed there, recent ones, perhaps no more than ten or fifteen years old. The grass was spotty in places and in those places I found traces of human refuse: broken spokes, wagon wheels, shards of glassware, old tin cans, rusted brackets and nails. This must have been a refugee camp during the Great War. It would have provided the perfect setting, at least until the Germans came and shelled the surrounding area into nothingness. Here was clean running water, probably fish, certainly game, it was near the road, but definitely far enough away to go hopefully unnoticed. Had the boy lived here?

I came to another clearing and picked through the debris. There were more items to support my theory: a Belgian beer glass, sardine tins, a flour tin stamped with the Red Cross. Also, there was a piece of wagon strut lying across a timber. I picked it up, and discovered the truth I had been seeking. The piece of timber had originally been planted and pounded into the ground like a stake before it rotted, the wooden piece of strut had been nailed to the timber to make a rudimentary cross. On the strut there was a waterlogged and barely definable picture and these words carved into the wood: N'tr fils, Michelle Bertrand, 11 ans, disp. 6 Oct, 1915 Dieu le protègent. Though the picture was almost ruined with rot I could still make out the face. It was the boy.

According to his memorial he was named Michelle Bertrand and he disappeared on the 6th of October, 1915, ten years to the day that he appeared before me. In that war at that time, his poor parents would have had little recourse to find help. An abduction could very well have been perpetrated by either army, not to mention the millions of traveling homeless roaming the countryside. The little they could do would be to remain here, helpless, hoping that Michelle would return to his temporary home. He never did. And when the Germans came, the Bertrands were forced to give up the one piece of home and hope they had left and flee the only area he might return to.

They had no way of knowing (though the cross is an indication that they came to accept the fact) that he was already dead. I knew it, I had seen the thing that had killed him rushing down the lane, reaching for him from the fog. I didn't know how exactly, but I was positive that the thing that took the child in the great hall 400 years ago was the same evil that took young Michelle 390 years later. I also knew that this same thing, it was one and the same as the knight and pages in the window. This evil was so powerful it had found a way to escape the confines of the manor to roam and prey on innocence. But if it was the knight, how had it come 400 years after his death to take a living, breathing child?

I decided to take the picture with me to show to Alex. Though this was no proof, it might be enough to convince him to help me solve this mystery and bring to divine justice the perpetrators. However, when I tried to extricate it from its frame, the picture simply dissolved. Too many years of moisture and exposure had done its job. Now all that was left of Michelle was his ghost: just a mental photograph, an impression of a tragedy, snapped in an instant and held up to view for eternity.

Alex, reacted with expected disbelief to my statements. But, after a few brandies and a few checks of my temperature, he came to believe at least that I believed it. I, naturally, took him to see the place where the boy appeared to me, and in somewhat crazed fashion I'm afraid, I described the scene in the fog. I took him to the grave and showed him the encampment, I even showed him the putty that used to be the boy's photograph. Alex was more disturbed by my erratic behavior than by the threat of ghosts, I think. Realistically, I wasn't giving him much sane behavior to work with.

However, as our days progressed together, my behavior calmed. I still believed everything that I had seen, but with the passing of time, and the comfort of a friend, my behavior became less, well, maniacal. As Alex witnessed this change in me, and yet my beliefs stood firm, he began to sway to the possibility that strange events were indeed afoot on the estate. I can say that my rages and streams of consciousness about demons and devils had done little to help him sleep and now he was attuned to every little noise and creak that the old house made (and old houses make many). And perhaps being constantly exposed to the unknown and the strange wore down his defenses.

I, on the other hand, slept much better; partially I think because Alex was at the estate, but mainly because the events in the forest had raised my bloodlust and I was filled with the raw courage and blind stupidity in the face of danger that accompanies it. Perhaps I would have been left to rage at nothing had I not had the most terrible dream.

Alex had been back for two weeks when it occurred. I made a fateful error and fell asleep reading the book in the great hall. I knew better than to sleep there anymore, but of course, I never intended to fall asleep. When I awoke, I was in total darkness. The darkness was not an empty void, but a cold, breathing thing unaware of me or my presence; asleep, surrounding me, enveloping me in its cold malevolence. Breathing was an effort, a labor. Pulling in the air of this darkness was like dragging tar into my lungs. I could feel the corruptible foul mass of blackness pull into and blow out of my lungs as if it were one solid object. I began to panic. I feared that I would wake the dormant void, for the more I panicked, the harder I breathed, the harder I breathed, the more difficult it was to get air, thus I panicked more.

I pushed forward in the void looking for an exit. As I did, I became aware of voices, muffled at first, but the further I pushed toward them, the louder they became. I made my way toward the voices and in a moment, I was thankfully extricated from the vile darkness. I immediately recognized the great hall. But Gil, it was not as it was in 1920, but how it must have looked in 1450! The stained glass window was gone, as was the fireplace, instead replaced by a central fire pit that illuminated the room, though only so far. As the light moved toward the walls it stopped as if bent. The darkness that covered the walls and corners hung languidly, the same living black void that I had just left. It breathed and arched with the flicker of the flames. It clung to the roof and beams like creosote. I could sense that it wasn't aware of me, or it cared not about me, but that did not change its ominous nature. I felt that at any moment it could take me away to its horrible nonexistence.

I turned to face the voices in the center of the room, carefully hiding myself behind one of the massive oak chairs. I peered over the side and down the long table in the direction of the sounds. At the far end of the table I saw the knight, a few other men of stature, the pages and a boy. The knight sat in a huge hand-crafted chair, a wine goblet in his hand. I could not make out what was being said but it was clear that the knight was giving orders to the page for the page nodded frequently. I could not make out the face of the boy, but he looked to be the same as the boy who had been led down the fireplace by the page.

Suddenly the knight pointed in my direction. I ducked behind the chair and prayed that I had not been discovered. After a moment's silence, it became clear he hadn't seen me, but had instead pointed for the pageboy to exit. I peered carefully from behind my sanctuary and saw the pageboy walking toward my position, leading the child by the hand. His body blocked from view the boy's face until they passed around the middle of the table, but when it was revealed to me, true terror struck my heart. It was not the same boy as before! No, it was not he, but I had seen him before. It was the boy from the woods!

I crouched behind the chair and silently prayed to the almighty to be quickly delivered from this horror, but just as in war, my prayers went unanswered. I heard them approach and in a matter of seconds, they came around the table, page first, Michelle in tow. As before the page walked past me without noticing, but young Bertrand saw me. He saw me, Gil! He made no motion or call, but as he passed he bent his head toward me and his eyes met mine, holding the gaze as he passed. So cold and dead were his eyes that to this day I can feel them upon me. Never would I wish such a feeling upon anyone. I had failed this boy and he knew it, he knew me. And here I was failing him again. I wanted to get up and rush the page, but behind them I could see the ever-present void, slumbering for now, but only seconds from pulling me away if awoken.

As the two approached the void by what should have been the fireplace the void peeled back from them as if repelled by their presence. As it withdrew firelight poured into the space it vacated, revealing not a fireplace, but a spiral staircase! This had been the reason the page had descended in the first encounter! There was once a cellar there! A nefarious place, no doubt, were unspeakable deeds occurred. Perhaps it still existed! Perhaps that was how I could exact my revenge, I could unearth the knight's shameful secret! As the pair descended, the void descended with them, shoving out the light and returning the staircase to darkness.

I contemplated my revelation, but soon after my attentions became focused yet again upon the knight for he spoke again, this time in a voice loud enough to be heard and understood by anyone in the hall.

"Où est l'homme que m'a apporté cette belle générosité? Apportez-moi mon bienfaiteur!" (Where is the man who brought me this beautiful bounty? Bring me my benefactor!) he bellowed. I turned around and lifted my head carefully. I wished to know of whom it was he spoke of so highly. No doubt it would be the creature of the fog, the very same beast that had taken the boy from me just a few nights before. Across the room I could see the void stirring. Slowly, from its depths an image began to extricate itself. To my surprise, it was no demon, but a young man. The knight stood up with arms wide to greet him. As he approached the knight, his face became more and more exposed in the light. Around him, the faces of other men could be seen in the darkness, but not much else. When I saw the face of this man, I let a shriek of horror escape my lips. I recognized him!

Upon hearing my shriek both men turned and faced me. The knight's face turned from the first recognition of surprise to that of pure anger. He opened his mouth and arched his back, emitting a roar inhuman and deep; a roar that struck terror into my soul and made the void quiver on the wall. I turned around to see the void moving, pouring across the floor toward me like ink from an overturned bottle. I crept away from it but I knew it would get to me, there was no place to go where it couldn't reach! What could I do to defend against the void? I had already tasted its horror, and the mewmory of that made my stomach burn.

Burn! That was it! In a mad dash I ran for the center of the room and the fire pit. As I bolted across the table I could see the void rushing at me from all sides of the room, swallowing all. I could only assume it was right on my tail as well. I could hear it knocking over the chairs on all sides as it rushed me. However, as it approached me from the far side, it slowed down to bend around the fire pit. It could not obscure or swallow that much light! I seized this straw of hope and leapt from the top of the table, diving for the fire. As I did, however, the blackness reached for my ankle from behind, tripping me in mid air and sending me crashing face-first onto the hard stone within arms reach of the sanctity of the fire.

The void quickly poured over me, surrounding me, pulling me from back. As my last effort of hope I shoved my hand into the fire and pulled a burning log from it. The searing pain of my flesh burning was enormous, but only for an instant as the painful signals awoke me to the land of the living again. My pain dissipated in the early morning light as I recognized my surroundings. I had escaped, but just. I would not be so lucky next time.

I knew now who young Michelle's cruel murderer had been and I knew where I would most likely find Young Bertrand's body, for I had recognized the face of his abductor, though not the bloated, greasy sagging face that I had known it to be when I was a child. Though younger, and more vital, it was still unmistakably the face of my uncle, the former master of Montcalme. Youth and vitality must have been the immortal gift for making such a demonic sacrifice. I awoke Alex, and told him the full extent of my ordeal.

"I worry for your sanity, Mon ami." He said.

"I'm as sane as I've ever been. This is real, Alex!" I declared.

"I believe you," he replied, "Which is why I'm so worried." We walked into the great hall. "It seems our friend up there," he pointed to the knight "has designs upon the house and we don't fit into them. Well, you don't, that's certain."

"But why?" I asked. "Why me?"

"Don't be so egotistical." He proclaimed. "He's probably done this for years. After all, he's got your uncle, hasn't he? He was there."

"It would explain a lot." I replied.

"And all those others," He said "For all you know, they could be the previous masters. This could be a ghastly family affair."

"Well, it must be stopped."

"And how do you plan to stop the dead?"

I explained to Alex what I planned to do, and he agreed, on two conditions. "First," he explained, "We must locate the crypt. It is imperative that we discover who our foe is." I agreed, I could call on the barrister for that detail. "Second," he continued "We must stay in here tonight."

"What?!" I yelled. "I was nearly killed! Are you mad!"

"Possibly, " he said. "But I must see what you are seeing! I must know. I simply must! Do you understand? You have communicated with - damn, man - you've fought with ghouls and goblins and various elements man only sees in his dreams, and all the while I have slept off hangovers and dusted off musty books in lowly abbeys! I demand to share the experience! What a story it will make!" I relented, but gave him this warning:

"This may be more than you can handle. It has nearly driven me to madness. He feeds, Alex." He looked at me quizzically. "He feeds on your shame and your fear and your anger. I have relived things I prayed I'd never have to see again."

"The war." He said, needing no explanation.

Alex and I drove his Deusenberg into town and bought the tools we would need to discover the truth of Montcalme. Afterwards we made for the barrister's office. Along the way, and in almost every nook and cranny there were shrines, some new, some quite old. The oldest of all the shrines sat in the middle of the town square. "Good lord." I said. "I never knew the French to be so… …Zealous."

"They aren't usually." Replied Alex. "This must be some sort of local hero. You know, hometown boy promoted to saint."

We arrived at the barrister's and I asked him about the crypt.

"The Crypt?" he responded.

"Yes, tell me where the family crypt is located."

"Well," he explained. "No one knows for certain. There used to be one, but where? One cannot say."

"But what of my uncle? Where is he buried."

"He is not." He replied. "He was cremated."

"And as for the cemetery," he continued. "I'm afraid it met the same fate as the soldiers on Montcalme hill, Monsieur. It was demolished in the bombardment."

"Completely?" I asked.

"Oui."

I thanked him and took my leave. I stopped at the door, and just remembering, asked him "Who is this saint I keep seeing?"

"What do you mean?" He asked.

"Well, is he a local saint? I mean, was he from here?"

"Oh, no, Monsieur." He said. "That is Saint Anthony."

"Saint Anthony?"

"Oui." he said. "The patron saint of lost children."

I told Alex everything that transpired. He nodded grimly. "It is too dark now to try and explore the cemetery." He said. "We are best to return home and prepare for the night. Do you have the coffee?" I showed him the bag of beans, freshly purchased. "Good, we shall need it." He got into the car and pressed the start button. "Perhaps we'd be wise to pour a cup for saint Anthony." The old Deusenberg rolled down the street, carrying us off to the fates.

I can tell you, Gil, that having been off the estate for the first time in weeks, I had no desire to return anytime soon. However, I knew there was a great force propelling me there. Besides the desire to save the child's soul, to free him from his torment, there was something else, perhaps an even greater force. I was being called back. I had sensed for a time that the estate felt I belonged there. I cannot explain it any more lucidly, I'm afraid. At first, it was just a feeling very light and simple and easily explainable. When I would open doors, the wind would go into the house, as if pulling me in, or when it was misty, it was almost as if the mist bent away from me when I was near the house. Later, however, it became more apparent. It was as if the chateau was a living, breathing thing like the forest, only, to the house I was a part of it, the heart perhaps, the animus that breathed life into it.

Driven by this force, I reluctantly returned with Alex. We set up shop in the great hall, bringing our equipment in and placing it near the fire pit. "What do you hope to find here?" Alex asked me.

"A spiral staircase." I replied.

Alex studied the mortar intensely. "Have a look at this."

He showed me how the mortar on the side crumbled almost just by touch, whereas the mortar on the floor of the fireplace was hard, and very difficult to budge.

"It's been replaced." He said, with a self-satisfied grin.

"Couldn't the fireplace have just cooked it and made it firmer?" I asked.

"I thought you might say that," he answered. "Rub the mortar between your fingers." I did. "This new stuff is of much higher quality, much finer grain. It's definitely new, old boy!"

"How new is new?" I asked. That he didn't know.

"But it's promising nonetheless," he said. I grabbed the recently purchased hammer and chisel and started picking away at the mortar. Alex retired to the chair with a fresh glass of coffee.

"As we agreed, we'll take shifts."

It took Alex and Myself at least three hours to remove most of the mortar. Finally, the large stones were loose enough to be lifted. Alex returned with a crowbar and shovel. "I lift, you wedge and so on until we can roll it out of the fire pit."

After 15 minutes we had moved the first and largest stone out of the fireplace. It was 9 PM."It's just dirt!" I said, shocked and disappointed.

"What did you expect?" he asked. "Even if there is a staircase, it will be likely covered by years of deposit." He was the archaeologist, I deferred to his opinion. "Oho!" he said "What have we here?" He reached down into the dirt and pulled out a chard of a wine bottle. The label had long since rotted away, but sealed on the glass was a date: 1911. "So." Alex said with satisfaction, "We can confidently date that mortar as being put in after 1911, I think." This bit of good news redoubled our efforts and we continued removing the stones. By midnight we had enough removed to dig in the fire pit.

We continued digging, in tandem, first removing a foot of soil, then another. We went slowly, as the archaeologist in him required that we sift through the dirt to see what we find. It turned up nothing, save the rest of the broken bottle and a soldier's uniform button, also recent.

"Do you suppose he paid a soldier to do this work?" I asked.

"In his dress uniform, with gold buttons?" he said. "Doubtful. More likely this was somebody's money. Soldiers cut off gold buttons to pay for supplies when they were flint."

At 1:00 AM, we struck something metal and hard. Frantically, we dug around to find its edges. It was a giant hinged door, laid flat on the ground, perhaps 4 feet by 4 feet. Alex clasped my hand, handed me a crowbar and said "Shall we?" I put my hand on his shoulder. "Alex, wait." I said. "I think we know what we'll find down there, let's remember this is not a dig, it's a mission. Perhaps we should wait until morning and summon a priest to come with us."

"When did you become so religious, old boy? Besides, I've seen many an old desiccated bag of bones in my day."

"Have we at least got a bible?" I asked. We hadn't. To appease me, Alex went through the house until he found a suitable one, a French Catholic version of the King James Bible. Off in the distance, a fall storm was brewing.

The door was rusty on the edges and only gave way after much prying, and when the seal was broken, air rushed in to the blackness with amazing speed. We worked to flip the door over and away from the pit. After the dust settled, Alex took a torch and lit it. Below us, in the pit, was a spiral staircase. "This is it." I said.

We descended into the vault very slowly. The staircase was made of stone, so we had no fear of it collapsing, but all the same we trod lightly. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by a horrible, foul smell, the smell of damp earth and the decay of once living things. It was so powerful we had to cover our mouths with our scarves. 'What is this place?" Alex asked. Within a few steps, the flickering light of the torch would bring our answer into view: it was the crypt. Lightning crashed in the distance and Alex and I nearly jumped out of our skin.

Oh Gil, I cannot describe to you the horror of what I saw, save to say this was no ordinary crypt. I wish to god and heaven I could block from my mind what was hung on the walls, what lay in piles, what existed on every turn, but I see them, I see them even now. I see them and my only thought is how unfair the world can be, how bloody unfair it all is to some. I'd seen this carnage before but not on children. I dare not speak of what I saw, except to mention two things of utmost importance: One, we found an ossuary, covered in gold, placed in a shrine surrounded by various icons and statuettes placed willy-nilly. Scrawled in the stone, poorly, and by untrained hands were the initials G. d. R. Against our better judgment, we opened the ossuary and found nothing but ashes and chips of bone. Despite the gold, we left it where it lay.

Second, at the foot of the shrine, we found bones, piled together, as if thrown there. There were bits of dried skin still on them, though, and it turns my stomach to say it, most if the skin looked to have been bitten off. The bones lay upon a greasy, dirty scrap of cloth, and upon further examination, it proved to be a bed cloth. We had found what was left of poor Michelle Bertrand. Taken to this hellacious place and executed, he had been left as some demonic sacrifice by my uncle at the shrine of this GdR. Sadly, I cannot say that my uncle was the only Derry to behave this way, merely the last. There were others, many others, but too foul is it to speak that I have never and will never relive the details of it.

Oh uncle! How could my own flesh and blood perpetrate such an act? How could one bring such suffering upon a child! I couldn't save the boy from my uncle before, but perhaps I could save him now. We quickly placed the bones of young Michelle into a burlap sack, and before we lost our minds from the sights in front of us, we made way out of the crypt and out into the great hall. The hall was almost completely dark, except for the area illuminated by our lamp. The storm was almost on top of us now. And with every bolt I could see the knight in the window. Alex rushed to the table.

"Oh god." He sighed, ripping off his scarf, breathing heavily of the untainted air. "It's so horrible."

Lightning crashed again, much closer, perhaps only a mile or two away. The eyes of the knight pierced me with their stare. I set down the bones.

"I think I know who he is." Alex said all of a sudden.

"Who 'who' is? " I asked. Again lightning struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the giant visage of the knight. He sat on his horse, the pages, arms at their sides, resting on bows, their eyes looking at me. Did they always look at me? I couldn't remember.

"The knight!" he said. "I think I know, but it can't be, it's too horrible."

"Who is he?!" I demanded.

"The book! I need the book!" he shouted, referring to my beloved La Famillie. "On the shelf." He rushed to get it. He ran back and thumped it on the table.

"It could be him, it could be him." He muttered as he whipped through the pages. I bent over to see. Lightning crashed again. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them again. The knight on his horse, the pages, hands on their quivers.

"Where are you!" he said, while muttering along in French the pages he was speed-reading.

"Who is it?!" I asked. ]

"You don't understand, it could be him!" he said "Dear God, I hope not, but it could be!" He fluttered through fifty pages quickly, heading toward the end of the book. Lightning crashed again, very close. The knight still stood there, rapt in attention, the pages as well, hands on their bows.

"Who is it?" I demanded. He ignored me, continuing through the book.

"THERE!" he shouted, lifting up the book in triumph. His eyes were afire as he read it. I placed my hands on him and shook him. "Who is he, Alex?" He leaned up from his book to tell me and behind him, lighting crashed again. This time very close. As it did, I caught a full view of the stained glass windows.

Something was very wrong. The knight was still on his horse, but the archers had arrows in their bows, which were fully extended. Their eyes were squinted and trained directly upon Alex. I grabbed him and pulled him as fast as I could for the door. A mere second later it struck. A bolt careened down on the heels of the previous one and struck the base of the window, blowing it out with incredible force. Shards of glass and bits of lead and solder came ripping toward us. We had only a moment to react when I felt Alex get lifted off his feet and pushed into me with the force of a rugby scrum. We both tumbled through the door and into the kitchen, flopping onto a broken pile of glass and wood. I was certain that Alex must be dead. Whatever shank of glass was that hit him had the power to knock him off his feet, and with that kind of power, it would surely cut him in half.

The sound of the implosion and the bolt itself was deafening. I stood up, my ears ringing, covered in glass shards, but no worse for wear. I rolled Alex over, and to my amazement, apart from some nicks, he was all right.

"What hit you?" I yelled.

"The bloody stained glass window!" he replied.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes!" he replied. He looked himself over, he was still clutching the book. "Hey." He yelled. "Have a look at this!" He rolled the book over so I could see it. Wedged in it, almost clean through, was a brown piece of glass, the size of a man's hand. I remembered that glass from the window. It was an arrowhead. "Bloody Christ." He said. "I think that one had my number on it." The other one wasn't far away. It was wedged deep in the stucco of the far wall, exactly where my head had been right before Alex careened into me.

We cautiously entered the great hall. The wind was whipping into the room. Bits of glass lay strewn everywhere. The kaleidoscope that had been the great window lay bowed and broken across the entire room. Fragments stuck in walls, clung to tapestries, left scratches on desks. It would no doubt be explained as a blast caused by lightning, but Alex and I knew better. "We can't stay here tonight." I said. "Right." He said. We picked up young Bertrand's bones and the book and limped into the Deusenberg. As I left I saw the eyes of the knight, lying on the floor, following my every step out of the great hall.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"He's Gilles De Rais, old boy. He's bloody Bluebeard."

He drove the car to a safe distance and opened the book to the page he had marked right before the explosion. Here's why you could see him, Monsieur Derry. I think this just about sums it up." He took a big pull from his flask before it disappeared back into his cloak. I read from the ancient French, disturbed by what followed:

"The de Rais family still exists, the descendants of Gilles, living not far from the ancestral home in Chartres, though they too wish to disavow him. In an ultimate slight against this one time hero of France, the have changed their name to an English one: Derry."

"Bluebeard." I mumbled. "I thought he was just a horror story told to bad children."

"Oh, no." he said. "He's real, my boy. I've read the works of Baring-Gould. He's very real indeed. Some say he murdered 600 children before he was burnt at the stake."

"Those ashes!" I proclaimed. "The GdR!"

"That was Bluebeard's grave." He said.

"But what would he want with me?"

"You're his bloody descendant!" he shouted.

"Do you suppose he wanted me to carry on the family tradition?"

"Only you wouldn't, so he tried to have you killed."

"It's all too fantastic to believe." Alex just nodded as he put the Deusenberg in gear and sped off.

We drove back to town and slept fitfully and fretfully in Alex's car, waiting for the storm to end and the sun to arise. When the rays of hope finally crested over the hood, we made for the local abbe' and after much bribery and promises of conversion we convinced the priest to bury poor Bertrand in the cemetery grounds and give him a proper burial. After even more bribery we convinced him to help us exorcise the house of its demons. But as we drove up the road to the Chateau, an acrid, evil, smoldering smell filled my nostrils. "It's gone." I said, knowing full well what we would see as we rounded the turn. "What is?" asked Alex.

"The house." As I spoke this proclamation we turned the bend that took the trees out of our way, leaving us a clean, unobstructed view of the chateau. It was no more. All that remained was a smoldering hulk and one corner of the great hall. The rest had toppled in on itself, creating a heaping wreck of red-hot stone and ash. I cannot say I was sorry to see it go.

The house, and perhaps its original lord had decided not to let the world see its secrets revealed, and so rather than surrender, it had decided to destroy itself instead. All the same, we had the confused priest bless it anyway.

Gil, you had once commented that I seemed driven by demons in my charitable work. Well, now you know them and they are your demons now. I only hope what I have done to help the children of the world, and what I hope you will continue to do for them will in some small way offset the terrible burden our family has placed upon this earth, though secretly I suspect it will never be enough.

As for you, you carry half again the amount of Bluebeard's blood in you that as I do, so that should come as some small comfort. As always, you are free to do with your life as you wish, but I hope and pray you lead a good and decent one. As for why I tell you this, when the demons come, and they will come, I hope you will see them for what they are, weak parasites dependent on you for success. With that knowledge you can take strength in knowing they can be beaten. Perhaps that is not entirely accurate: They can be beaten back.

The End